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The Signature Victory in the Career of Golf's Top Stars

Mike DudurichContributor IApril 28, 2014

The Signature Victory in the Career of Golf's Top Stars

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    His first major title was very emotional for Phil MIckelson.
    His first major title was very emotional for Phil MIckelson.DAVID J. PHILLIP

    There are probably several ways to define a signature win for a professional golfer, but I think the most simple definition might be the victory that stamped the player as something special.

    Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by a dozen shots, but I don't rate that as his signature win.

    Phil Mickelson won the 2013 British Open, but I don't think that was his signature.

    Adam Scott won the Players Championship in 2004, but that wasn't his, either.

    Take a look at this list and see if you agree with my takes on signature victories.

Phil Mickelson: 2004 Masters

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    Phil Mickelson won his first major title in the 2004 Masters.
    Phil Mickelson won his first major title in the 2004 Masters.DAVE MARTIN

    Phil Mickelson will go down in history as one of the most popular men to play professional golf.

    And his first major championship victory, the 2004 Masters, will certainly be viewed in the same manner as Arnold Palmer's 1960 triumph, Jack Nicklaus' age-defying victory in 1986 and Tiger Woods' record-smashing win in 1997.

    Mickelson's 0-of-46 streak came to an end when he birdied the 72nd hole to beat Ernie Els by one shot.

    Making birdie on the final hole to win the Masters hadn't happened since 1998, when Mark O'Meara did it. Mickelson, playing in the final group, got off to a tough start and was two over par through six holes, but he caught fire, going five under through the final 12. The big left-hander has gone on to win four more majors, including the 2013 British Open.

Adam Scott: 2013 Masters

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    Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters.
    Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters.Matt Slocum

    Adam Scott is the possessor of a golf swing that millions of youngsters try to emulate. That swing is also the envy of his professional brethren as well.

    But until April 2013, Scott didn't have something that he wanted even more than a classic golf swing: a major championship.

    He took care of that little detail on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Ga., winning the Masters in a playoff to become the first Australian to ever win the Masters.

    Scott birdied the final hole to apparently win but was tied when Angel Cabrera lasered an approach shot to three feet on 18 to force a playoff.

    But Scott knocked in a 12-foot birdie on the second playoff hole and set off a major celebration in Australia, making him an even bigger golf hero there than he already was.

Rory McIlroy: 2011 U.S. Open

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    Rory McIlroy dominated Congressional Country Club in 2011.
    Rory McIlroy dominated Congressional Country Club in 2011.David Cannon/Getty Images

    Had Rory McIlroy not imploded on the back nine of the 2011 Masters, his signature victory would have taken place at Augusta National.

    It didn't, but he responded with a brilliant exhibition of golf at Congressional Country in the U.S. Open a couple of months later.

    To say it was a record-setting performance wouldn't quite paint the entire picture.

    McIlroy set the 72-hole aggregate score record of 268, 16 under par on his way to an eight-shot victory. The previous low was 272.

    He went into the record book as the youngest winner of a U.S. Open since Bobby Jones won in 1923.

    Because of some serious rain that soaked Congressional, but his closest competitor was Jason Day, eight shots in McIlroy's rear-view mirror.

Bubba Watston: 2012 Masters

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    People started taking Bubba Watson seriously after the 2012 Masters.
    People started taking Bubba Watson seriously after the 2012 Masters.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Bubba Watson's shocking victory in the 2012 Masters stunned the golf world not only because it was only his fourth career victory and first major title, but also because of the amazing way it took place.

    On the second hole of a playoff with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, Watson hooked his tee shot into the trees on the right side of the 10th fairway. He found the ball, envisioned a gap in the branches and spun a gap wedge that hooked 30 yards left-to-right onto the green with a chance for birdie from 10 feet.

    A two-putt par was good enough to get Watson a green jacket, although early in the day, he was down five strokes to Oosthuizen, who recorded a rare double-eagle on the second hole.

    Watson repeated that triumph earlier this month, becoming a member of the two-time Masters champion club.

Jason Day: 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

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    Jason Day was all smiles in February but has struggled with an injury since.
    Jason Day was all smiles in February but has struggled with an injury since.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Jason Day has carried the unofficial tag of "next guy to win a major" for a while now, even though he's only 26 years old. And he still hasn't won that elusive major championship yet, although he has registered a T2 and second in the U.S. Open and a T2 and third in the Masters.

    Day's signature victory came in February when he won the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Arizona.

    It was one of the best finals ever in the Match Play Championship. Day was matched against Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, who won the last two holes to tie the match and then recorded two all-world pars from the cacti off the greens.

    In the end, however, it was Day who won his first WGC title, took home $1.5 million and moved up to fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Tiger Woods: 2000 U.S. Open

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    Even in the fog, Tiger Woods was spectacular in dismantling Pebble Beach.
    Even in the fog, Tiger Woods was spectacular in dismantling Pebble Beach.ELISE AMENDOLA

    Considering the man has 14 major championship titles, it might seem a bit difficult to pick Tiger Woods' signature victory, but it didn't seem all that tough to me.

    What he did to the Pebble Beach Golf Links in the 2000 U.S. Open in many ways defies description.

    Woods won by 15 strokes, which was two shots more than Old Tom Morris handled the field by in the 1862 British Open.

    The numbers make you shake your head. Woods had the largest lead ever at the midway point of the tournament with six shots; the lowest halfway score at 134; the largest lead after three rounds with 10 shots; the lowest final score at272; most strokes under par with 12 shots and the biggest victory margin.

    Yes, he won the 1997 Masters by a dozen shots, but this was the moment that if there were any doubters at all, they were crushed under the dominance Woods displayed on the shores of Carmel Bay.

Zach Johnson, 2007 Masters

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    Zach Johnson had a winning game plan in the 2007 Masters.
    Zach Johnson had a winning game plan in the 2007 Masters.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Zach Johnson cannot and never really has been able to overpower a golf course.

    So when Augusta National Golf Club was "Tiger-proofed" or lengthened, players like Zach Johnson and the shorter hitters seemed to lose whatever chance they had to win the Masters.

    But somebody forgot to tell Johnson. He came to the year's first major in 2007 with a game plan from which he didn't waver, and it was a winner.

    Johnson know that going for any of the famed par-fives was risky business, especially the 13th and 15th, where water makes going for those two an even more tricky proposition.

    And that worked out just fine for the native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He finished the week 11-under par on the par fives and won his first and only major championship.

Justin Rose: 2013 U.S. Open

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    Justin Rose took a media tour after winning the U.S. Open last year.
    Justin Rose took a media tour after winning the U.S. Open last year.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Ever since England's Justin Rose holed out on the 72nd hole of the 1989 British Open, much has been expected of him. And it took him a long time to live up to those expectations.

    Rose didn't win his first major title until last year's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.

    On a golf course made difficult by a great deal of rain, Rose posted rounds of 71-69-71-70 and made it through 72 holes without making a single double-bogey.

    He held off Phil Mickelson, who finished second for a record sixth time.

    Rose became the first Brit to win a major since Nick Faldo's 1996 Masters triumph and the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Charl Schwartzel: 2011 Masters

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    Charl Schwartzel had one of the great Sunday finishes in the history of the Masters.
    Charl Schwartzel had one of the great Sunday finishes in the history of the Masters.Harry How/Getty Images

    The 2011 Masters will be remembered by many people as the one that Rory McIlroy let get away.

    But just as many people will remember how McIlroy's self-destruction opened up the chase for the green jacket, with as many as five players tied for the lead at one point in the back nine.

    He finished his round with birdies on the last four holes to become the first player to finish that way in the history of the event. Those four allowed him to shoot 66 in the final round, the best last 18 holes by the winner in 22 years.

    How crowded were things late Sunday afternoon? He didn't have the lead to himself until he knocked in a 10-footer for birdie on 17 and added another on the 18th to add a little icing on the cake.

    Definitely the signature victory for the native of South Africa.

Louis Oosthuizen, 2010 British Open

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    Louis Oosthuizen celebrates with the Claret Jug in 2010.
    Louis Oosthuizen celebrates with the Claret Jug in 2010.Associated Press

    Louis Oosthuizen had flown somewhat under the radar in his career, but that all changed on a windy Sunday on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

    The South African took control of the 2010 British Open and held the lead over the final 48 holes, cruising to a seven-shot victory for his first major title.

    How well did Oosthuizen play at St. Andrews? He made two bogeys in the final 35 holes and seemed to have things well in control from start to finish.

    Oosthuizen finished 16 under par at 272 and became the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win his first major at St. Andrews.

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