Dark-Horse Candidates to Win the 2013 Masters' Green Jacket

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIApril 8, 2013

Dark-Horse Candidates to Win the 2013 Masters' Green Jacket

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    The first major championship of the year gets under way Thursday at the Augusta National Golf Club among the blooming azaleas of northern Georgia.

    The Masters is the one golf championship of the year that draws the most casual fan to the television and transports them back to a simpler day and age.

    With most of the focus rightly on whether Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy can continue on their march to greatness, there is a decent chance the gentleman putting on the green jacket Sunday night will have been considered a dark horse.

    The 10 players selected here would not be considered favorites by oddsmakers in Las Vegas or by the talking heads on Golf Channel.

    They either have had great careers and can parlay their knowledge of Augusta National into another shot at glory or have a game that can fit on the fast greens and break through for the first time—like Bubba Watson last year, for example—on the sport's biggest stage. Whoever wins Sunday night will have quite the story to tell. 

    Statistics via either Masters.com or PGATour.com.

Nicolas Colsaerts

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    Masters History: None.

    Momentum Meter: Nicolas Colsaerts is making an adjustment in 2013 in that he's playing on both sides of the Atlantic. After a quarterfinal appearance in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships, Colsaerts followed that up with a tie for 18th at the WGC-Cadillac Championships a few weeks later.

    Why He Can Win: Colsaerts is becoming very comfortable in playing in limited-field events with big names. Yes, he has never played here before, but he had a tie for seventh last year at the Open Championship and made the Ryder Cup. 

Fred Couples

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    Masters History: Fred Couples' only major came here in 1992 at the expense of Ray Floyd. Always long off the tee, Couples has 11 top-10 finishes in 28 tournaments. Since his debut in 1983, he has missed two cuts. 

    Momentum Meter: Couples has finished no worse than a tie for 12th in his three Champions Tour stops this year. The 53-year-old also has enjoyed a renaissance at Augusta, finishing in the top 15 the last three years.

    Why He Can Win: Augusta rewards players who take the time to learn it. If his back is all right, Couples is still long enough off the tee and comfortable enough on the greens to know when he can charge and when to accept par. Not much rattles Couples, and he thrives in the pressure cooker that is the Masters.

Jason Day

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    Masters History: As a rookie in 2011, Jason Day fired a second-round 64 to jump in contention and ended up with a tie for second. He followed that up by withdrawing after the opening round last year.

    Momentum Meter: Day comes into the Masters with three top-10 finishes in 2013. Cashing paychecks in his seven starts, he was a semifinalist at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships.

    Why He Can Win: After contending two years ago at the Masters, Day was runner-up to Rory McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open. Day loves older, more traditional courses—top-10 finishes at Rivera and Pebble Beach—and Augusta certainly qualifies. 

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

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    Masters History: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano made the cut last year in his first trip to Augusta, finishing 61st.

    Momentum Meter: Splitting time between the European Tour and the PGA Tour, Fernandez-Castano has had two top-25 finishes over here, including a tie for third at Bay Hill. A six-time winner overall, he won his second Italian Open last year.

    Why He Can Win: He is playing the best golf of his career. Confidence is a key to good golf, and Fernandez-Castano has shown he is on the verge of getting all the pieces together. The fact he made the cut his first time tells us he has figured out how to putt here as well.

Rickie Fowler

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    Masters History: Rickie Fowler has made the cut both times he has played, with a tie for 27th last year being his best result.

    Momentum Meter: After a roller coaster 2012, Fowler has found stability again with three top-10 finishes. His tie for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill is his best finish of the season.

    Why He Can Win: Fowler has fallen to No. 28 in the official world golf rankings. Whatever messed with his game after notching his first win last year has been fixed. Fowler built good momentum here last year by closing the weekend shooting 72-70 for a two-under 142.

Jim Furyk

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    Masters History: Overall, Jim Furyk has four top-10s, including a pair of fourth-place finishes in 1998 and 2003.

    Momentum Meter: Furyk found the fountain of youth in 2012 and led for a while in the closing stages of the U.S. Open Sunday. Bouncing back after some heartbreaking finishes last year, Furyk has posted a pair of top 10s in 2013, including a tie for third in Tampa Bay.

    Why He Can Win: When he makes the cut (he's missed it only twice), he has never finished worse than a tie for 33rd in 14 weekends. His game is in good shape, and his experience could carry him through a tight Sunday.

Sergio Garcia

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    Masters History: Sergio Garcia has two top-10 finishes at Augusta, with a tie for fourth in 2004 being his best result. After a down period, Garcia has made the cut the last four years, including a tie for 12th last year.

    Momentum Meter: A win toward the end of last year at the Wyndham Championship has put the wind back into Garcia's sails. This year, he finished in a tie for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral and followed up with a tie for seventh the very next week at the Tampa Bay Championship.

    Why He Can Win: It seems like forever since the 19-year-old Garcia dueled Tiger Woods on Sunday at the 1999 PGA Championship. Garcia has yet to cash in on that talent, and this might be the week. If he is fully engaged, his putting can earn him a green jacket.

John Huh

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    Masters History: None.

    Momentum Meter: John Huh was the 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. His sophomore season, however, has been a slow one. He did finish in a tie for 27th at Bay Hill.

    Why He Can Win: His overall game is solid, and he is under no expectations. If he can adjust to the speed of the greens, he can throw together four good rounds. It worked for Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship.

Dustin Johnson

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    Masters History: Dustin Johnson's best finish was his first—a tie for 30th in 2009. He has yet to miss a cut in his three starts.

    Momentum Meter: Johnson started 2013 with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, marking six consecutive seasons with a win. He also finished in a tie for fourth at the Shell Houston Open a couple weeks ago.

    Why He Can Win: Johnson has the talent to be a superstar, but he has yet to put it together at a major on a Sunday. With near misses in 2010 at the U.S. Open and at the PGA, Johnson has to close the deal. That fourth-place tie in Houston is big, as those greens mimic Augusta National's.

Tom Watson

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    Masters History: In 39 starts, Tom Watson has won twice and finished 15 times in the top 10. Watson's wins came in 1977 and 1981.

    Momentum Meter: The 2014 Ryder Cup captain made two cuts in his three PGA Tour starts last year at age 62. His last start was on the Champions Tour in March at the Toshiba Classic. He finished fifth.

    Why He Can Win: He would not be playing if he felt like he had no chance. Watson has only made the cut three times since 1998, but in 2010, he finished tied for 18th. It is a long shot, but he knows this place better than anyone else in the field.