Masters week is a week for the Goliaths of the contemporary golf world. That is the natural order at a tournament of this size and stature but for a select few in the field the emphasis on the Tiger and Rory and Sergio represents an opportunity. Call them the Backdoor Boys, the less feted golfers who slipped in under the coverage of very little media focus to take home a Green Jacket. In recent years Mike Weir, Zach Jackson, Trevor Immelman and Danny Willett all pulled off unexpected victories at Augusta National while those at the loftier end of the world rankings went home disappointed.
Here are five players who could pull off the same trick come Sunday afternoon.
Does DeChambeau count as an underdog? Definitely not in his own mind, a place in which he struts around as if he is a Masters champion in waiting. Yet this self-confidence represents the Californian’s best chance. He won’t be scared or intimidated, he won’t be distracted by feelings of inadequacy should history come calling on the back nine on Sunday afternoon. It helps, too, that he can play a bit, as he showed at Bay Hill last month when he gave the rampaging Mr McIlroy a run for his money down the closing stretch.
Hoffman is the anti-overnight sensation, a jobbing PGA Tour pro who kept getting better and better until one day he started winning PGA Tour events. His record at the Masters isn’t especially eye-catching (one top ten finish) but he has never missed a cut, which is always a good sign. An even better indicator of hope is his opening round 65 last year, which gave him a four-shot lead over the rest of the field on what was a blustery day. He hung around the top of the leaderboard until late Saturday before fading back into a tied-22nd finish. But he clearly loves the course, while both his game – he works the ball both ways and is a decent putter – and his attitude – surfer, dude – will give him a chance.
Unassuming is Smith’s middle name yet the 24-year-old Aussie is on the watchlist of those golf observers who like to keep an eye out for future major winners. This is down to his golf swing, which is both aesthetically pleasing and, more to the point, repeatable under pressure. He is a high-ball hitter (a must around Augusta National) and has a reliable short game. Best of all, he has grit, as evidenced by his top five finish at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, a dog-track of a golf course that had most of the field complaining their way out of contention.
This will be the Englishman’s fourth Masters. He missed the cut as an amateur but finished tied seventh in his first appearance as a pro in 2016. He made the cut again last year. This season he has decided to split his time between the PGA and European Tours, and like many who have chosen that path he has seen his form dip. But there is nothing to stir the adrenalin like the sight of Augusta National. Fitzpatrick is a great putter and an under-rated striker of the ball. If the course is running hard and fast, which it will be this week, then his relative lack of distance off the tee will be somewhat alleviated. Perhaps not a winner, but a decent each way prospect.
It is the dreariest fact in the Master lexicon – no rookie has ever won the Green Jacket except for Fuzzy Zoeller. There are several reasons for that, not least the nerves of a first-timer and the lack of course knowledge that can only be acquired through the years. Finau is something else, though. A giant of a man blessed with stunning athletic skills and the placid nature of a Sunday school teacher. He hits the ball miles, which makes life a whole lot easier around AGNC, and has been in good form recently, as evidenced by his eighth place standing in the current FedEx Cup rankings.