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  • Alistair Tait

The surprise Masters

All eyes will be on Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, John Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and the other fancied riders in the upcoming Masters. Maybe those looking for a wee wager need to look at players with longer odds.

History proves the top dog doesn’t always don that garish green jacket at the end of the week. There have been some unlikely winners since Horton Smith won the first Masters, or the Augusta National Invitational as it was known in its inaugural year of 1934.

Here is my list of the tournament’s six surprise winners. Note I use the term “surprise” rather than “underwhelming” as Golf Digest did when it named its list of surprise U.S. Open winners. That was poor from supposedly the game’s pre-eminent golf magazine. There’s nothing underwhelming about winning a major. Those that do should be celebrated not castigated.

Let’s face it, many experts would probably not have chosen the men below to become members of the world’s most exclusive club. So here, in alphabetical order, is my choice of the six most unlikely Masters winners.

Tommy Aaron, 1973

Amazing how fate intercedes in this great game. Aaron was the player marking Roberto De Vicenzo’s score card in the final round of the 1967 Masters. Aaron marked down a four on the 17th when De Vicenzo made a three. The mistake wasn’t spotted and Bob Goalby won by a shot. There were no such clerical errors for Aaron in 1973.

Aaron’s only previous PGA Tour victory came in the 1969 Canadian Open. That win helped him end a run of nine career tournaments in which he finished second or tied for second, including the 1972 PGA Championship. While in the past he’d started well in tournaments only to limp home, the Gainesville, Georgia native finish strongly in the 1973 Masters. A closing 68 gave him a one-shot victory over J.C. Snead. It was his last PGA Tour win.

Charles Coody, 1971

The Texan contended with Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller in the final round of the 1971 Masters. Not many would’ve backed Coody. He’d won just twice on the PGA Tour, the 1964 Dallas Open Invitational and the Cleveland Open Invitational two years previously. He’d let slip a golden chance to win the 1969 Masters by dropping shots on the final three holes to finish fifth.

Coody lost his confidence the following year when his clubs were stolen. It took him a long time to find a replacement driver. He'd found one to his liking by the time he turned up for the 1971 Masters. He finished strongly on this occasion while Nicklaus faltered, and Coody defeated Miller and Nicklaus by two shots for his final PGA Tour victory.

Bob Goalby, 1968

You have to feel a bit sorry for Goalby. He’ll always be remembered for the winning the Masters Roberto de Vicenzo probably should have won. De Vicenzo’s scorecard error, signing for a four at the 17th when he had made a three, cost him the chance of a playoff. What has been lost in the telling of that story is that Goalby played great golf on the final day. His 66 included an eagle at the 15th when he hit a 3-iron to 10 feet and holed the putt to tie the Argentinean at the top of the leaderboard.

Goalby was gracious enough to say he would have preferred to win the title in a playoff, while De Vicenzo blamed the accounting error on himself. Aside from the Masters, Goalby won another 10 PGA Tour titles. The Masters was the highlight of his career. Too bad his fine victory was overshadowed by a clerical error.

Trevor Immelman, 2008

The South African had one PGA Tour victory when he turned up for the 2008 Masters, the 2006 Western Open. He had six other wins worldwide, five in his homeland to go with the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe on the European Tour. Although a fine player, not many would have picked him to don a green jacket at the end of the week. Not with Tiger Woods in his pomp. Yet he beat Woods by three shots to earn an annual invite to the champions dinner. Even Immelman was taken aback.

“I grew up watching this championship back home and I can’t believe I have won the same tournament,” he said. “I knew I had to just be as tough as I could and hang in there. I’m so proud of myself. I actually still can’t believe I got the job done.”

Herman Keiser, 1946

All eyes were on Ben Hogan to win the first Masters after the interruption of World War II, but Keiser stole the show. Hogan might have defeated Keiser in a playoff had he played the final hole better. Hogan three putted the 18th and lost by a shot. Keiser’s other wins? The 1939 Iowa Open, the 1942 Miami Fourball with Chandler Harper, the 1946 Richmond Invitation, 1946 Esmeralda Open, and the Ohio Opens of 1949 and 1951.

Larry Mize, 1987

Face it, in a three ball featuring Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Mize not many are choosing the American. Yet the Georgia man took gold on that podium with Norman taking silver and Seve bronze thanks to the shot of Mize's life. That chip in birdie from the side of the 11th green to defeat Norman in the playoff after Seve had been eliminating at the 10th is the defining moment of Mize’s golf career. It’s probably the shot that haunts Norman to this day.

Mize, who counted the 1983 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic as his only PGA Tour win before that Masters victory, won just two more times in his PGA Tour career, the Northern Telecom Open and Buick Open in 1993. The Masters made his career, just as it did the other five men on this list.

#JustSaying: “What a stupid I am!” Roberto de Vicenzo on his Masters mishap


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I did consider him. He was on my original list of 10, which turned out to be too long so I cut it down to six. My favourite Harmon Masters story is when he made a hole in 1 on 12 while playing with Hogan. Hogan made birdie and walking to the 13th tee reportedly said: "Claude, I think that's the first time I've ever birdied that hole." No mention of Harmon's ace. Talk about being in the zone.





I might add Claude Harmon to your list. 1948 Masters was Claude's only PGA tour win, and he did it as a true non-touring Club Professional. And he didn't tour full time for good reason. He was the winter Head Professional at Seminole, and the summer Head Pro at Winged Foot. (How's that for two prime jobs held concurrently?).

By 1948 The Masters had in effect become the last event of the winter tour, after which pros (a lot who still had club pro jobs, at least in title) would take a month off to go north and open their clubs. Harmon was on his way to Winged Foot after the Masters.

Not that Harmon wasn't a very skilled player.…

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