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Men’s major champs talk about signature shots in victory

Tiger Woods is not done for the year. Still to come is what he referred to as the “fifth major,” which is 36 holes at the PNC Championship with his son.

Those other majors have long been in the books and still have lasting memories of shots that will be part of major championship lore. Most of them are on Sunday, when the trophy is presented. Some of them are earlier, and often forgotten.

In a series of interviews, the four major champions discuss the shot most fans will remember, and a particular shot that stands out to them.

Masters Tournament

“In other years, that ball would not have made it to the trees,” Jon Rahm said.

But his tee shot on the 14th hole at the Masters ran just into the rough and his approach was blocked by a pine tree. What’s more, he faced a downhill lie with the ball slightly below his feet. He had to get creative, and the Spaniard did just that. From 137 yards, he opened his stance, opened the face on his 8-iron and aimed left.

“I had to slice it a good 10, 15 yards to catch the slope,” he said. “It came out absolutely perfect. It came out on line, faded the way it needed to fade and then used the slope.”

It settled 3 feet away for his final birdie, and with Brooks Koepka making bogey, Rahm had a five-shot lead with four holes to play.

Also memorable to Rahm was a 9-iron that looked to be simple and safe, and that’s why it meant so much to him. Too many Masters have been lost on the par-3 12th hole. Rahm had a two-shot lead Sunday, hit the middle of the green and two-putted for par. There were several underrated shots he hit in the final round. This was among those he cited “because I hit it 6 inches from my target.”

PGA Championship

Brooks Koepka ended the PGA Championship with two swings. Only one of them was his.

He had a one-shot lead at Oak Hill on the 16th hole when Viktor Hovland’s 9-iron from the bunker plugged deep into the lip. He had to drop in the collar and could only advance it 50 yards, leading to double bogey. Koepka watched this play out, quickly stepped into the rough and smashed a 48-degree wedge to 4 feet for birdie — a four-shot lead with two to play.

“Gave me a little ease going to 17, 18,” Koepka said.

His PGA Championship week began with another wedge from the rough — this one not nearly as far from the hole — that stood out as one of his fondest memories. It was Thursday on the par-3 11th, his second hole of the championship. Koepka pulled his tee shot well left of the bunker. His pitch to a back pin ran off the green into rough that covered his shoes. He was staring at a quick double bogey, except that he chipped in for par.

“Saved me,” Koepka said. “Usually when you make double, you don’t win a major championship.”

U.S. Open

Hugh Hefner no longer owns the Playboy mansion tucked behind the 14th hole at Los Angeles Country Club. Wyndham Clark might consider making an offer. The par 5 on the North course brought him two big moments that led to his U.S. victory.

The most memorable shot was his 3-wood from 282 yards that faded just enough to catch the left corner of the green and settle 20 feet away for a two-putt birdie, giving him a three-shot lead. Clark was so impressed he considers it as great as any 3-wood in U.S. Open history.

“To land it in that neck, which was only about 8 yards wide, I had to hit a big, high cut,” Clark said. “If you pull it left, it’s a tough up-and-down. Leave it the bunker, you’re probably not getting up and down. We were trying to hit it long, if anything, and we pulled off the shot.”

Go back two days, the same hole, to find a flop shot that spoke to his bold play.

Clark was in the left rough facing a far right pin 28 yards away, meaning he had to clear a deep bunker and land it soft enough not to roll off the green. The worst-case scenario was catching all ball and watching it sail over the green.

“I truly think most of the field would have chipped it left and tried to two-putt from 40 feet. The others would have done it because they were going to miss the cut,” he said. “I don’t think many guys would have pulled the shot off under the circumstances.”

He took a full swing with a sand wedge, opened the face and watched it float high and land soft, 12 feet for a birdie.

“It was an incredible shot, but a little bit overlooked,” he said.

The Open Championship

Brian Harman started the final round at Royal Liverpool with a five-shot lead and he won by six. That doesn’t mean it was always smooth sailing. He bogeyed the second hole of the final round. He drove into the gorse and made bogey on the par-5 fifth. Suddenly, his lead over Rahm was down to three shots with 14 holes and nasty weather ahead of him.

“I’m 2 over through five holes and I’ve got no easy holes coming up,” Harman said.

His birdie on the par-3 sixth changed everything.

“It was back into the wind, I had 185 yards and hit my best 5-iron of the year, held it up against a left-to-right wind,” Harman said. “That flipped my day.”

Equally meaningful to him was a late birdie. Harman had just bogeyed the 13th, his lead down to four shots with five to play and the par-4 14th, as tough as any at Hoylake, next to play.

“I hit a 6-iron to about 30 feet and the putt I hit on 14 was dead center — drained it,” he said. “That putt was the first time I entertained the thought of winning the tournament.”