Underrated Golfers You Need to Keep Your Eye on at 2013 Masters
We all know who the favorites are this week at the Masters.
We also know who that next level of players are—the guys who, if they get it going, can get into the mix quickly.
But who are the underrated players, those who are getting very little attention when discussions turn to players who can actually win the 2013 Masters?
Here's a list of 10 such players and some reasons why they're on this list.
K.J. Choi is one of the best bunker players on the PGA Tour.
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Why He's Underrated: You never hear much noise out of K.J. Choi, mostly because his personality is a quiet one. He’s made a lot of noise on the course, however, winning 20 times worldwide. He hasn’t won since the 2011 Players Championship but has played consistently, if unspectacularly, since. He’s played in 47 majors but is still looking for his first title.
Masters Pedigree: In eight Masters appearances, Choi has recorded three Top 10s. He’s also posted 11 rounds under par. In 2010, Choi bogeyed 13 and 14 on Sunday, eventually losing by five to Phil Mickelson. The next year, he made birdie at the ninth on Sunday to tie for the lead. He made bogeys on 17 and 18, shot 38 and finished in a tie for eighth.
Why He Could Challenge: Choi has always been referred to as a solid player—one who doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s not a bomber, but keeps the ball in the fairway and gets shots on the greens a good percentage of the time. He’s really good from the bunkers, ranking fourth in sand saves this year. He comes to the Masters off a sixth-place finish in the Texas Valero Open. He’s shot 11 rounds under par at Augusta National, with his best finish a third in 2004.
Nicolas Colsaerts unleashes a drive at Augusta National Tuesday.
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Why He's Underrated: He’s played the majority of his golf in European Tour and is playing his first full year on the PGA Tour. This is Colsaerts’ first Masters and the list of players winning in their first Masters appearance is short: Horton Smith (1934), Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979).
Masters Pedigree: Doesn’t have one.
Why He Could Challenge: Because he can hit the ball a mile (leads PGA Tour in driving at 307.2 yards and hits greens at a 70.83 percent clip, 11th best on tour). Colsaerts put on a spectacular show of shot-making on Saturday afternoon of the Ryder Cup, shooting a 62 at Medinah Country Club.
Peter Hanson shows off his powerful swing.
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Why He's Underrated: Few people mention this 35-year-old Swede when compiling their favorites list for the Masters. He’s only played in 22 major championships and has just two other top 10s. Combine the lack of success in the majors and the relatively light schedule he plays in the United States (just 50 career starts here) and he’s easy to overlook.
Masters Pedigree: After missing the cut in his first appearance in 2011, he showed flashes of brilliance last year, shooting 68 and 65 in the first and third rounds. He also shot 74 and 73 in the second and fourth rounds to miss the playoff with Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen by two shots.
Why He Could Challenge: Because he knows how to make birdies at Augusta after piling up 20 there last year. That experience should bode well for him this year. He’s in the top 25 in driving distance, scoring average, sand save percentage and total putting. The game is there, he just has to make it happen.
Graeme McDowell discusses one of Augusta National's tricky putting surfaces.
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Why He's Underrated: Since he won the U.S.Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, he’s not done a great deal. He had fallen somewhat out of the spotlight but rebounded a bit in 2012. McDowell is likeable but quiet and isn’t often on a list of favorites in majors.
Masters Pedigree: This will be Graeme McDowell’s sixth Masters and his best finishes have been a 12th last year and a 17th in 2009. His knowledge of the course after five appearances should begin to show this year.
Why He Could Challenge: Prior to a tie for 45th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McDowell had posted three straight top-five finishes. He hits a lot of fairways, 70.92 percent (fourth on tour) and is putting well. Now those are a couple stats that could be very helpful at Augusta National. The 68 he posted in the final round last year proved to him that he didn’t have to always play defensively there.
Dustin Johnson is still trying to figure it out.
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Why He's Underrated: Maybe it’s because he’s had the lead in two majors in the final round, had some poor decision-making and gave those two away. He started the season off with a win in the Hyuandi Tournament of Champions and then disappeared.
Masters Pedigree: He’s played three times and recorded finishes of 30, 38 and 38. He has one round in the 60s, the second last year when he posted 68. Not much of a pedigree.
Why He Could Challenge: The world is waiting for him to turn that prodigious length of his off the tee (303.5 yards, fifth on tour) into something that resembles a weapon of domination and win a major. Length is a useful tool at Augusta National and maybe this will be the week. He’s played badly enough in this event that to have some amount of desperation to play well here.
Zack Johnson doesn't wear the look of a confident man.
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Why He's Underrated: The bloom has long disappeared from his 2007 Masters championship. The start to his 2013 season has not been thrilling or productive. He’s done nothing in majors to engender any warm and fuzzy feelings toward him being a guy to get back in the hunt again soon.
Masters Pedigree: Ugly. His victory in 2007 is the only top 10 finish in eight appearances. Three of those years he was 50th or worse. Pedigree might be a stretch.
Why He Could Challenge: Johnson started the Masters with a game plan in 2007 and never deviated from it. He believed it would be too risky for him to go for any of the par fives in two, so he decided he wasn’t going for any and he wedged his way around Augusta National and finished 11-under on the par fives for the week. He’s so short off the tee now (267.9, 187th on tour) he’ll have no other choice but to duplicate that strategy if he hopes to contend this week.
Bo Van Pelt
Bo Van Pelt finished the 2012 Masters in a strong way.
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Why He's Underrated: Bo Van Pelt is one of the most understated stars on the PGA Tour, but over the last couple of years, he’s been on leaderboards a lot. He hasn’t won a major, but a guy that plays as steadily as he does will get his shot.
Masters Pedigree: He’s played just three times in the Masters, missing the cut his first year (2005), finishing eighth in 2011 and in a tie for 17th in 2012. He seems to have figured a lot out last year in terms of course management, etc.
Why He Could Challenge: Three of his last eight rounds have been in the 60s. He tied the tournament’s fourth-round scoring with a 64 that included a hole-in-one on the 16th hole. He even beat down a stretch of holes that had caused him major headaches earlier in the tournament. He was six-over par on the stretch of 14-18 in the first three rounds, but was four-under par there on Sunday.
Jason Dufner jokes with Tiger Woods during Masters practice.
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Why He's Underrated: In 2012, this late-bloomer had a monster season, picking up his first two wins and earning nearly $5 million. This year hasn’t been quite as good and the soft-spoken, laid-back golfer has disappeared from the sport’s spotlight. He hasn’t played well in the majors, playing in 15 and finishing third once.
Masters Pedigree: Jason Dufner has only played in two Masters, finishing 30th the first year and 24th the second. Seems like improvement and that’s usually a good sign.
Why He Could Challenge: He became a very proficient short-game player last year and, while that didn’t necessarily manifest itself at the Masters, it will certainly be a big help if he gets it going this week. He’s not all that long, but very accurate off the tee, both fine attributes on a course that demands as much precision as Augusta National.
Fredrik Jacobson will have to get the flat stick going this week.
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Why He's Underrated: He didn’t join the PGA Tour until 2004 and hasn’t been a real standout on tour. He’s been a journeyman type player, making a nice living but not really being noticed. That normally happens until he wins, which Jacobson has done once.
Masters Pedigree: He’s played three times in the Masters and has a tie for 17th in 2004 and a tie for 19th last year. He has three subpar round out of the 10 he’s played.
Why He Could Challenge: He’s had three top 10 finishes already this season. He’s also one of the best putters on tour, ranking eighth in the strokes gained putting category. He can go low, firing a 65 at the Northern Trust Open.
Webb Simpson hopes to make some noise this week in Augusta.
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Why He's Underrated: After his tense win in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, he’s played OK, but hasn’t come close to the level of play he exhibited in San Francisco. Hard to imagine that a U.S. Open champion almost two years removed is not involved in the serious contender conversation at Augusta, but that’s the reality. As nice a man as he could be, his quiet nature keeps him on the fringes.
Masters Pedigree: He played in the Masters for the first time last year, had one round under par (70) and finished 44th. Not much of a pedigree, but everybody has to start somewhere.
Why He Could Challenge: He’s fifth on the PGA Tour in third-round scoring, which will be very useful if he makes the cut. At age 27, he’s still in the learning stage of his career and don’t be surprised if he makes a big jump this year. He has too much game not to.