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Who was biggest surprise as Masters winner in recent years?

Trevor Immelman-Danny Willett photo illustration
Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, and Danny Willett, the 2016 winner, pulled off big surprises at Augusta National.

Unlikely champions Trevor Immelman and Danny Willett earn their spots in golf lore as Hawk & Purk debate which was more shocking

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Who is the most surprising Masters champion in the past 20 years?

Hawk’s take: Two months before one of the most unforgettable finishes in U.S. Open history, the 2008 Masters laid an egg large enough to feed everyone who showed up for breakfast at Augusta National that week. It was a tournament almost completely devoid of the usual heroics and back-nine fireworks, an unlovable affair won by Trevor Immelman, who claimed his lone major title despite firing a final-round 75.

The surprise? There were several. Immelman would win just one other PGA Tour event (2006 Western Open) and fail to crack the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking at any point in his career. Bigger things were expected of the South African prodigy, who collected three other victories on the European Tour but never was thought of as a serious candidate to chase down a green jacket.

Speaking of which, there was no overt attempt to chase the would-be champ on Sunday, which qualifies as something between a rarity and a shock. The three men closest to Immelman after 54 holes – Brandt Snedeker, Steve Flesch and Paul Casey – combined to shoot a ghastly 18 over that afternoon. Tiger Woods entered the week at even money and worked himself into the mix with a third-round 68, but his pursuit of a fifth Masters triumph stalled by virtue of a closing 72.

It was just one of those weeks, you might say. For all the suspense and steel-nerved brilliance that have defined so many gatherings on golf’s grandest competitive stage, 2008 was a sobering anomaly, proof that a surprise can occur only when you least expect it.

Purk’s take: An overwhelming majority of the 30,000 or so patrons at Augusta National Golf Club for the final round of the 2016 Masters likely couldn’t have picked Danny Willett out of a lineup. He had won four events on the European Tour, so he wasn’t entirely unknown, but only to Europeans and a few writers who closely followed the game.

But no one, including Willett, had any notion he’d be a factor in this Masters. In fact, no one was paying any attention to him except his caddie. That is, until one of the most epic collapses in Masters history spectacularly occurred.

Jordan Spieth had a five-shot lead going into the back nine and appeared for all intents to be marching resolutely toward his second straight green jacket. But bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11 and two balls in the water at the par-3 12th led to a quadruple-bogey 7 that erased his advantage.

When the wreckage cleared, the 28-year-old Willett was in the lead. To his credit, he shot 67 that Sunday. But Willett forever will be the Stewart Cink of the Masters, known for the major that Spieth lost instead of the one that Willett won.

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