By major tournament standards, the Masters is a relative newcomer.
The Open Championship had its first winner in 1860, followed by the U.S. Open in 1895 and the PGA championship in 1916. As for the Masters, the first winner of the coveted Green Jacket was Horton Smith in 1934.
Eight more Masters were played until 1943, when World War II forced a hiatus for three years.
In 1946, unheralded PGA Tour veteran Herman Keiser, who won all of five tour events, secured his first and only major victory at Augusta.
The “Missouri Mortician” as he was named for his stony persona, shot an improbable Sunday 74 to beat out future legend Ben Hogan, who three-putted the slippery 18th green. Keiser’s winning take was a modest $2,500.
Times sure have changed as the total purse for the 2017 tournament is $10 million, with the winner taking home $1.8 million.
There have been a few unlikely champs in the history of the Masters since Keiser. Here are 10 we think deserve notice, starting with the earliest to the latest.
10. Charles Coody – 1971
In 1971, Charles Coody was a 33-year-old journeyman PGA Tour pro who last won on the circuit at the Cleveland Open Invitational in 1969. At the ’71 Masters, the likes of past winners Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer were still favorites to do damage at Augusta. Coody, of Stamford, Texas, got out of the gate quickly in the first round, firing a six-under 66 to take an early three-shot lead into moving day Friday. A 73 would see him drop into a tie for second going into Saturday. The third round saw Coody come back with a two-under 70, good enough to send him into Sunday tied with the legendary Nicklaus, who shot a 68 for a share of the lead at 7-under. Johnny Miller, who was 3-under after three rounds, climbed up the board and after a birdie on 14, actually had a two-shot lead on Coody, who bogeyed the hole later. However, Coody rebounded after the gaffe with two straight birdies, then par on 17 and 18 to hold off Miller (who bogeyed two of his last three holes) and Nicklaus for his only major and last championship of his career.
9. Fuzzy Zoeller – 1979
Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller certainly lived up to his nickname in 1979, when the relatively wet-behind-the-ears golfer beat several legends with a stirring come-from-behind effort to win the fabled tourney on his first try. That feat had not replicated since Gene Sarazen turned the trick in the second ever Masters in 1935. Zoeller had just won his first tour event two months earlier at the San Diego Open Invitational, securing his berth in the Masters. After the first two rounds of the ’79 event, Zoeller was 3-under having shot 70 on Thursday and 71 on cut-down Friday. He was six shots behind leader Ed Sneed going into Sunday after firing a 3-under 69. With just three holes to go on Sunday, Sneed had a commanding three-shot lead, but bogeyed those holes to force a three-way playoff with Zoeller and Tom Watson. Zoeller would win it with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
8. Jack Nicklaus – 1986
The Golden Bear was, for all intents and purposes, as one golf scribe described him prior to the Masters in 1986 “done, washed up, through.” Those words, in a nutshell, were eaten. Having not won a major in six years, the 46-year-old Nicklaus was stuck on 17. With rounds of 74 and 71 to open the 1986 event, Nicklaus made the cut by a mere four strokes and was six strokes off the pace set by early leader Seve Ballesteros. With a 69 on Saturday, Nicklaus proved there was still some life left in his game and he went into Sunday four back of Greg Norman, who shot up the leaderboard with a 68. On a thrilling Sunday, five different players would hold a share of the lead, with Nicklaus shooting even par for the first eight holes then birdies at nine, 10 and 11, only to bogey 12 to fall three back again. Jack would par the 14th and begin his legendary charge with a massive eagle at 15. He would shoot an improbable 30 on the back, beating Tom Kite and Norman by a stroke to become the oldest major winner on the tour.
7. Larry Mize – 1987
Born in Augusta, Larry Mize wasn’t destined to win a Green Jacket, being a PGA Tour veteran who seldom won but played solid golf. He won his first tournament in 1983, the Memphis Classic and would go four years before his career-defining win at Augusta in 1987 — his only major victory. The Georgia Tech product started off well enough, firing a first round 70 to sit one shot off the lead. A 72 on Friday kept him in the hunt, though he had a share of second with three other golfers who were one off leader Curtis Strange. A second straight 72 on Saturday bumped him another stroke back for a four-way share of fifth heading into the pivotal Sunday round. Greg Norman, who knew a thing or two about Masters joy and sorrow, shot a 66 on Saturday and was tied for third. Mize and Seve Ballesteros shot 71 on Sunday and Norman a 72 to force a three-way playoff. On the 10th for the first playoff hole, Norman and Mize shot par, while Ballesteros bogeyed and was eliminated. On the 11th, Mize stunned Norman when his 140-foot chip found the hole for a birdie and an unlikely triumph.
6. Mike Weir – 2003
There was no one hotter on the tour in 2003 than Tiger Woods, who had won the previous two Masters to give him three total heading into Augusta. Canadian lefty Mike Weir started his coming out season on a high note, winning both the Bob Hope Classic and the Nissan Open (both in February 2003) going into his fifth Masters. His best finish ever was a T-24 in 2002, so not a whole lot was expected from the native of Bright’s Grove, Ontario. Rain kept the Masters from starting until Friday and Weir opened with a 70 to sit four shots off the lead. With Thursday rounds cancelled, the second round started Friday afternoon. Weir shot one of the best rounds, finished at 68 to take a commanding four shot lead over Darren Clarke at 6-under. Having to complete his second round Saturday morning, Weir scuffled to a 75 in the third round to fall back two shots to Jeff Maggert, who spun a 66 to take the lead. On Sunday, Len Mattiace nearly placed his “improbable” stamp on the tournament, shooting 65 to Weir’s 68 to force a playoff. With the playoff on the 10th hole for the last time in Augusta history, Weir shot a bogey five to Mattiace’s six to become the first Canadian — and left-handed golfer — to win it.
5. Zach Johnson – 2007
As far as Masters tournaments go, the 2007 edition was positively arctic in conditions. Cool temperatures and high winds resulted in overall high scores with Zach Johnson’s final 289 (plus-1) tied for highest winning score ever. Johnson rolled into the 2007 tournament on the heels of a solid 2006 tour season, where he was part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team (which lost handily to Europe). He’d been to the two Masters leading up to 2007, getting cut in 2005 and finished well back at T-32 in 2006. Not known for being a long hitter, Johnson would not reach a single par-5 in two for the entire tournament, yet played those par-5s better than anyone in the field with 11 birdies and no bogeys. Johnson went 71-73 to put him in the tie for fourth on cut down day. A third round 76 in blustery conditions on Saturday kept him two shots off the lead heading into Sunday. Johnson would tie two other for low round on Sunday at 69 and would hold off the likes of Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods to claim his first and only Green Jacket.
4. Trevor Immelman – 2008
Talk about big shoes to fill. As a South African, Immelman carried the hopes of his country into the 2008 Masters, which had been won 30 years previous by fellow South African legend Gary Player (his third and last). A seasoned European Tour vet, Immelman had won three times there and just once on the PGA Tour prior to entry into his fifth Masters. His best finish at Augusta prior to 2008 was a solo fifth in 2004, followed by a cut in 2006 and a T-55 in 2007. Undaunted, Immelman played like his legendary predecessor, being in the lead or tied for it through every round, shooting 68-68-69 in the first three rounds to take a two-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker going into Sunday. Conditions that day were less than amicable to the field, and Immelman would shoot a 75 (just over the average of all golfers for the day) to win it by three over four-time champ Tiger Woods.
3. Angel Cabrera – 2009
For the third year in a row in 2009, the Green Jacket winner seemingly came out of nowhere. Sure Angel “El Pato” Cabrera (El Pato means “The Duck”) had won the U.S. Open in 2007, but it was his first PGA Tour win and just his fourth tournament victory since turning pro in 1999. The affable Argentine golfer secured his 10th Masters invite with that U.S. Open triumph. He had three top-10s at Augusta, his best a T-8 in 2006. Cabrera waddled into the 2009 Masters as the 69th ranked player in the world and few gave the then 39-year-old much of a chance to win it. Despite superb opening rounds of 68 and 68, Cabrera still sat one shot off the lead after cut-down day behind co-leaders Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry. On Saturday, Cabrera fired a third straight under-par round (69), to go into Sunday tied with Perry for the lead at -11 (and Campbell solo third at -9). Cabrera and Perry would shoot 71 and Campbell a 69 to send the tournament to a playoff. Cabrera and Perry both parred the first playoff hole (18th), with Campbell being eliminated with a bogey. On the par-4 10th, Cabrera would only have to two-putt for par to be the first Argentinian to don a Green Jacket.
2. Charl Schwartzel – 2011
The 2011 tournament was famous as much for who won — Schwartzel — as for who lost — he being Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman, who was just 21 and blazing a trail on the PGA Tour, would shoot 65, 69 and 70 to open up a four-shot lead heading into Sunday. Sitting four back in the weeds was South African Schwartzel, who had no PGA Tour wins to his credit and six European victories. Unfortunately for the wiz kid McIlroy, he infamously melted down around Amen Corner, shooting a triple bogey seven on the 10th, followed by a bogey on 11 and a double bogey on 12 en route to an 80 finish (10 strokes off the lead). Schwartzel would seize the day and win his only major, shooting a blistering 66 to hold off charges by Jason Day and Adam Scott. Schwartzel’s winning round included an eagle from the fairway on three, as well as birdies on his final four holes.
1. Danny Willett – 2016
Just like Rory McIlroy in 2011, it was defending champion Jordan Spieth’s tournament to lose in 2016. The 22-year-old Texan shot a 66 in the opening round to take a two-shot lead, then hung on to the lead with rounds of 74 and 73 heading into Sunday. Willett, who was three back of Spieth in a pack that included superstars Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, was an afterthought as a contender. After nine holes on Sunday, Willett was a distant five shots back of Spieth and in solo second. However, like McIlroy in 2011, Spieth succumbed to the pressure at Amen Corner, dumping two balls into Rae’s Creek at 12 to card a quadruple bogey seven and relinquish the lead to Willett. The Sheffield, UK native finished his round with birdies at 13, 14 and 16 (when he was just one shot ahead of Spieth), becoming the first Englishman to win the Masters since Nick Faldo did it in 1996.