Setting up targets and mowing them down isn't just a rewarding game at a shooting gallery. It's an approach that works pretty well with Mr. Market, too. Companies that topple profit projections are usually on to something -- and the pros don't know it just yet. Underestimated companies often wind up producing even more upside surprises in the future.

That said, let's take a closer look at a few of the companies that humbled the prognosticators this past week.

We'll start with Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM). The fast-food restaurant operator earned $0.72 a share in its fiscal third quarter, two pennies ahead of Wall Street expectations. It just proves that a multi-concept chain doesn't have to operate on all cylinders -- the company outperformed despite a slide in same-store sales at Pizza Hut. KFC and Taco Bell helped save the day, especially overseas. Yes, overseas. These days, China is responsible for a fourth of the quick-service specialist's operating profits.

Wolverine Worldwide (NYSE:WWW) was another topper. The footwear company behind brands such as Hush Puppies, Outdoor, and Heritage stepped up to earn $0.42 a share for its third quarter, a cent better than analyst projections. Like Yum!, Wolverine also raised its year-end profit target. A healthy backlog of orders is beefing up that outlook, but improving margins are fattening up operating margins now.

Marriott International (NYSE:MAR) is the third company that we'll be taking a closer look at this week. The hotelier topped forecasts when it earned $0.70 a share, before a one-time charge caused by a Delta (NYSE:DAL)-leveraged aircraft lease. The market was looking for the hospitality giant to check in with just $0.64 per share in net income. This topper may come as a bigger surprise than Yum!'s and Wolverine's, since many worrywarts were writing off the travel industry. Pricey gas and pesky weather were supposed to keep many potential vacationers at home.

It didn't work out that way. Occupancy was up 1% throughout the company's properties. More importantly, it was granted enough pricing flexibility to inch rates higher. As a result, the typical overnight guest is paying 8% more than this time a year ago. It's a favorable trend that should carry over to Marriott's peers, including InterContinental (NYSE:IHG) and Hilton (NYSE:HLT).

Helping Marriott's cause is its aggressive share buyback program. So far this fiscal year, the company has repurchased 20 million shares. Dividing net profits by fewer shares will work wonders to improve the bottom line.

So keep watching the companies that lap expectations. Over time, it will be a rewarding experience for investors. That's the kind of surprise that market watchers relish in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. The strategy has paid off -- the average Rule Breakers selection has more than tripled the S&P 500's market return. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription.

Either way, come back next Monday to learn about more stocks that blew the market away.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers, but he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.