First off, let's define what we mean by "Great Unknown." It's a player who doesn't necessarily draw the attention of the sporting public at large -- you know, the ones who believe that golf season begins this weekend. Obviously, this takes out players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and other well-established pros. But someone like Charl Schwartzel, last year's winner, fits snugly in this category, as did Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson, to name a few recent winners. Remember, just because you know who Nick Watney is doesn't mean the rest of the viewing public does.
Why a Great Unknown could win: It's been done before, and often very recently. The Masters has a way of raising the profile of whoever wins -- a green jacket will do that for you -- but it's worth remembering that many of the recent winners have not exactly gone on to light the golf world on fire. Still, all it takes is the best weekend of your professional life. Consider Schwartzel, who won last year by birdieing the final four holes, the first time that had ever been achieved. That was surely the finest four holes of his life, and it came at exactly the perfect time.
Consider, also, that relative talent is far broader now than at any time in golf's history. There are easily ten players you could pick to win and not get laughed at; when in the annals of the game has that been possible? So "Great Unknown" might just mean someone whose public presence hasn't yet caught up with their talent.
Why a Great Unknown won't win: Because on the greatest stage, golf's best players step up. Prior to the mid-2000s trio named above, you need to go all the way back to 1991 and Ian Woosnam to find a player who was arguably out of public knowledge in the golf world. Before him? Tommy Aaron way back in 1973. So while the recent trend has been toward players playing the tournament of their life one time, the overall trend is that this weekend's winner has already secured his place in golf lore.
All right, your turn. Which, if any, "Great Unknown" do you think could step up this weekend?
- Charl Schwartzel