Masters 2014: Unheralded Players Who Emerged as Serious Contenders on Day 1

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Masters 2014: Unheralded Players Who Emerged as Serious Contenders on Day 1
Mark Duncan

The overarching theme as the opening round of the 2014 Masters begins to wind down is that Augusta National Golf Club plans to put up a serious fight this week.

Sunny conditions have dried out the storied venue and made a difficult course even trickier.

While there are some big names near the top of the leaderboard, including reigning champion Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker and Louis Oosthuizen, some lesser-known golfers also played their way into the mix. The question is whether they can keep it up for three more days.

With that in mind, let's check out the current leaderboard at the season's first major.

The updated scoring information is followed by a look at the three unheralded golfers with the best chance to contend for the green jacket after strong showings in Round 1.

 

2014 Masters Leaderboard

Bill Haas (-4)

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Haas is a late bloomer. He's 31, but has been playing his best golf over the past few years. The Masters represents the major championship where he's enjoyed the most consistent success, making the cut in all four attempts and finishing inside the top 20 last season.

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The reason for that is likely his type of play. He's not the flashiest golfer. He isn't going to drive the ball 310 yards or make up a ton of strokes on the green.

Instead, he relies on a well-rounded game without a major weakness. That bodes well for him at Augusta, which presents a unique challenge.

Haas walked off the course with sole possession of the lead at four under par. Considering that Weather Channel expects the conditions to only get tougher in the coming days thanks to a dry forecast, getting off to a quick start will serve as a significant edge as long as he keeps playing well.

 

Jonas Blixt (-2)

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Blixt ended last year's major slate on a high note by finishing fourth in the PGA Championship. It was only his second career appearance on one of golf's biggest stages, which made his weekend charge into contention even more impressive.

He lacks consistency, as his two missed cuts prior to the Masters illustrate, but poor first rounds doomed him in both of those instances.

That obviously won't be a problem this week. In fact, Justin Ray of ESPN noted that his two-under start marked the sixth straight major round in which he finished par or better:

For whatever reason, there's a group of golfers who always seem to play better at the majors. Players like Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot a four-under in Round 1.

The sample size is still small, but Blixt is playing like someone who belongs in that category.

 

Gary Woodland (-2)

David Cannon/Getty Images

A quick glimpse at Woodland's best results in each major tournament reveals that they all came in 2011. It was at that point when it looked like he was ready to take the next step into contention, but it didn't happen.

At least it hasn't happened yet.

Things may finally be moving back in a positive direction for him, though. Brent Maycock of the Topeka Capital-Journal passed along comments from the Kansas product, who said he was starting to feel confident about his game again:

I have surrounded myself with some of the best people in the world at what they do—from my agent to my performance coach to coach to caddie to mentor. It's pretty cool. It's definitely made my life a lot easier and we're starting to see the results from that.

It's been a roller coaster, but I'm very confident with where I'm at right now.

Golf is a very mental game and when things aren't going right in that area, it's tough to contend in any tournamentlet alone a major. However, now it seems like Woodland is trending in the right direction and he certainly possesses the talent to contend.

 

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