Masters Picks 2014: Dark-Horse Candidates to Win the Green Jacket

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

Masters Picks 2014: Dark-Horse Candidates to Win the Green Jacket

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    It happens more than you might think.

    Though the experts head toward Augusta every year with the shortlist of players most likely to be celebrating come Sunday evening, it's not unusual that a player whose name was written elsewhere ends up being the guy fitted for a new green jacket alongside CBS' Jim Nantz.

    While Adam Scott's win last year was hardly a shocker and Phil Mickelson's third title in 2010 surprised few, go ahead and raise your hand if you had Charl Schwartzel in 2011 or Bubba Watson in 2012 in your slam-dunk contenders pool before tee off at No. 1 on Thursday.

    So it's with that in mind that we look here at five players, some new to the spotlight and some who've simply not been crowned in a while, who could come off the predicted pace to become major factors in the chase for a coveted seat in Butler Cabin.

    Note: Odds are courtesy of VegasInsider.com.

5. Patrick Reed (No Line)

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    At age 23 and with no established track record of trophy-hoisting on the PGA Tour prior to 2013, it’s no surprise that oddsmakers are slow to recognize the fuzzy-cheeked San Antonio native as a Masters threat. But unlike anyone else in the field this week, the former student at both the University of Georgia and Augusta State University has proximity on his side.

    He broke his tour maiden at the Wyndham Championship last August—when he beat Jordan Spieth, who’s listed at 20-1, by the way—and has since added two more titles at the Humana Challenge and the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He enters the week second on the FedExCup points list, trailing only Jimmy Walker (50-1), and ahead of ex-champs Bubba Watson (fifth) and Zach Johnson (seventh) in the top 10.

4. Sergio Garcia (40-1)

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    Could it really have been 15 years ago that the brash teen went shot for shot with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship and made eternal highlight reels with a slash from behind a tree on the 16th hole that he followed into the fairway with a series of scissor kicks? Woods ultimately won the event as part of a mantel of 14 major trophies, while the Spaniard’s somehow remains empty at age 34.

    His best finish at Augusta was a tie for fourth in 2004—the tournament where Phil Mickelson won his first of three green jackets—but he started 2014 on the right foot with a win at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters and has since climbed to sixth in the official World Golf Rankings with three top-10 finishes in his last four events. He’s a veteran and he’s got momentum.

3. Harris English (40-1)

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    Lynne Sladky

    If you were looking for a positive sign with which to start your first week at the Masters, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than recording a hole-in-one on the Augusta National course during a practice round. That’s precisely what the native of nearby Valdosta, Ga., and alum of the University of Georgia did, which has put him squarely on our dark-horse radar at 40-1.

    He locked up his first PGA Tour win at the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic, where he bested Phil Mickelson by two strokes, then added win No. 2 by taking the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in February by four strokes. He’s one of nearly two dozen players making their inaugural appearances amid the splendor at the Masters, so weak knees are always possible. But the ace could have a nice calming effect too.

2. Jimmy Walker (50-1)

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    The 35-year-old native of Oklahoma City and product of Baylor University is one of those players who, unless you’re a hardcore golf fan and PGA Tour follower, you’ve probably never heard of. And quite frankly, until this season, there’d been no reason to pick him out of the anonymous gaggle whose names never made the Sunday afternoon leaderboard.

    But it’s all changed so far in 2013-14, as the veteran of 187 previous events without a victory has won three times in the first eight tournaments of the new season. He’s a first-timer at Augusta, and the Masters is surely a different animal than the Frys.com Open, but anyone playing that well is worth paying attention to this week until he proves otherwise.

1. Angel Cabrera (60-1)

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    Let’s get this straight. Two guys who hadn’t won a tour event prior to last season have narrower odds than this guy? Not to mention another player who made a name for himself a long time ago, but hasn’t compared in terms of spotlight production since? That’s indeed the case for the 44-year-old Argentine with a better Masters history than most guys not named Woods, Nicklaus or Snead.

    Lest we forget, he was the runner-up to champion Adam Scott after a two-hole playoff just last year and has a permanent pass to the Champions Dinner thanks to his own playoff win in 2009—when he outdueled Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell in two extra holes. So long as he can get through three days with no trouble from a balky shoulder, don’t be surprised if he’s right there on Sunday.