- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Golf seasons are defined by the majors, and this year was no exception.

There was a finish like no other by Charl Schwartzel in the Masters, the redemption of 22-year-old Rory McIlroy in a record-setting performance at the U.S. Open, the popularity of Darren Clarke at the British Open. And how fitting that the longest American drought in the majors was ended by rookie Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship.

No matter where the majors are played, who wins or by how many, there is always at least one signature shot by the winner, and at least one other shot the champion finds particularly meaningful to him.

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Schwartzel became the first Masters champion to birdie the last four holes, though he believes the shot most people will remember is when he chipped in for birdie from 60 feet across the first green. He chose that over the sand wedge from 114 yards that he holed for eagle on No. 3 that gave him a tie for the lead.

“To be fair, the shot on No. 1 was probably more difficult _ far more difficult,” Schwartzel said. “On that green, anything maybe 10 or 12 feet long goes over the back on the other side, and then you’re staring bogey or double bogey in the face. If it kicks slightly left, it takes the middle part of the slope and goes off the front of the green, and then you look like a beginner.”

His most meaningful shot of the final round was what appeared to be the easiest of his final four birdies.

“I was just coming off making 10 pars in a row, and the situation that was arising required quite a few birdies,” said Schwartzel, one of eight players who had a share of the lead at some point Sunday at Augusta National. “A lot of times you can push so hard, and a lot of times you end up making bogeys.”

He hit 6-iron for his second shot on the par-5 15th and was stunned to see it release over the back of the green. He nearly holed the chip, and then made the 8-foot birdie putt. That was the start of his historic finish.

“If you miss that putt, the chances of making birdies on the other holes are slim,” Schwartzel said. “Because then you’re pushing too hard. For me, that was the biggest birdie. I don’t want to say it became easy, but it snowballed from there.”

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The U.S. Open felt like one big snowball for McIlroy, who opened with a 65 and never let anyone get close the rest of the week at Congressional. Even so, he had no trouble identifying what he considers the signature shot of what turned out to be an eight-shot win.

“The 6-iron on No. 10,” he said.

McIlroy was eight shots ahead of Y.E. Yang, the same margin he had at the start of Sunday. Then again, it was on the 10th hole at the Masters where it all unraveled so quickly for him. This time, his towering 6-iron from 214 yards landed just beyond the flag and rolled down the slope to within a foot.

“I still felt the back nine at Congressional is very tough,” McIlroy said. “Yang was eight behind and hit it in close. Things can go wrong very quickly at major championships. To hit that shot with Yang in close, it was a big shot for me.”

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