MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — Whether it’s sheer concentration, inspiration from the loudest gallery in golf or a willingness to deliver when the sport is more about country and continent than cash, the Ryder Cup tends to deliver more stunning shots in three days than most fans see in a month.
Some are subtle, such as Colin Montgomerie splitting the fairway on the 18th at Valderrama that effectively clinched it for Europe. Some shots are with the putter, players making it from absurd lengths when it looks like they’re out of the hole. And like any tournament, some of the best shots are played from the worst spots.
The list is long, and nearly impossible to narrow to only five shots. These are served up for consideration:
5. A WALK-OFF ACE FOR PAUL CASEY
Six players have made a hole-in-one in the Ryder Cup, but the ace by Paul Casey at The K Club in 2006 was the only one to end a match.
Europe had little trouble beating the Americans that year, and this match was no exception. Casey and David Howell already were 5 up in a foursomes match Saturday against Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson when they came to the par-3 14th hole, the match dormie.
From 213 yards, Casey hit a 4-iron — moments after European captain Ian Woosnam said his teammates had been hitting 3-iron — and the ball landed a few feet short of the hole and tumbled into the cup. It set off one of the loudest cheers in Ireland and led to one of the Ryder Cup’s more awkward moments.
Casey conceded a 1 to Cink, meaning he is credited with a hole-in-one on a shot he didn’t hit.
“Very surreal situation, not actually walking up to a green and putting out or shaking hands on the green,” Casey said. “A fantastic moment.”
4. JUSTIN LEONARD’S PUTT AT BROOKLINE
“My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said on Saturday as Justin Leonard was struggling in a fourballs match at The Country Club in 1999. Not much changed on Sunday, when Jose Maria Olazabal built a 4-up lead on Leonard early on the back nine in what was shaping up as a pivotal match.
With a big putt and some mistakes by the Spaniard, however, Leonard fought back to square the match coming to the 17th hole. By then, the stakes were obvious. The Americans needed a half-point to complete the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
Leonard fired at the pin, only for the ball to spin back down the slope to 45 feet. Olazabal had about a 25-foot putt.
Leonard sent his putt up the slope, and while it was on a good line, it also had plenty of speed and likely would have gone some 6 feet by. It dropped swiftly into the back of the cup and set off the biggest celebration of the day — too much of a celebration when players and wives charged across the green, even though Olazabal still had a birdie putt to halve the hole. When order was restored, Olazabal missed, and the Americans had won the Ryder Cup. Leonard’s putt made the difference.
“I think the ball was just destined to go in,” Leonard said.
3. THE 2-IRON BY CHRISTY O’CONNOR AT THE BELFRY
The matches were tied at 10 as the Sunday singles were just starting to unfold in 1989 at The Belfry when Europe regained control by winning four straight matches on the 18th. Perhaps the most significant of all was Christy O’Connor Jr. against Fred Couples.
O’Connor had not played in the Ryder Cup in 14 years. He had never won a match, and this looked like a losing cause when he was 1 down to Couples with three to play. O’Connor made birdie on the 16th to square the match, and both found the fairway on the 18th.
That’s when the Irishman delivered the shot of his life. It was a 2-iron from 229 yards that he fired fearlessly at the flag and watched it settle 4 feet from the cup. It shook Couples so badly that he missed the green with a 9-iron and took three to get down from there. O’Connor knocked in the birdie putt, and tears filled his eyes.
Jose Maria Canizares won the 18th in the match behind him, assuring Europe would keep the cup.
“The best I have ever played under pressure,” O’Connor said of his 2-iron. “I’m absolutely thrilled.”
2. PAUL AZINGER’S SHOT OUT OF THE ROUGH AT THE BELFRY
Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger rarely played a Ryder Cup match that didn’t include fireworks, from either their shots or their words. The opening singles match in 1989 at The Belfry was no different, especially when it reached the 18th hole with Azinger clinging to a 1-up lead.
The American, who had teamed with Chip Beck to beat the powerful European tandem of Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam in fourballs, knew he only had to halve the final hole to win a point. And he promptly hooked his tee shot into the water. Azinger took a drop, lucky that the ball sat up in the rough instead of plopping into a depression, but it looked no less bleak with Ballesteros in the fairway.
He had 232 yards and had to carry two sections of the water. Azinger used a baffler — what today would be a version of a hybrid — and smashed it out of the rough, over the water and into the bunker. Ballesteros realized he could no longer afford to lay up, so he went for the green and found the water.
Ballesteros wound up holing a 35-foot putt for bogey to make it interesting, though Azinger is one of the best from the bunker. After that great recovery, he splashed out of the bunker to 4 feet and made bogey to halve the hole and win the match.
1. SEVE SHOWS MAGIC WITH 3-WOOD IN A BUNKER
Seve Ballesteros already had lost a 3-up lead with seven holes to play, fell behind and caught up against Fuzzy Zoeller, and they were all square playing the par-5 18th at PGA National in 1983. Ballesteros hit a poor tee shot, and his next shot went into a bunker, the ball near a steep lip. It looked like the Spaniard would have to lay up short of the water and take his chances from there.
Ballesteros, as only he can, saw a different shot. He chose 3-wood from 245 yards.
“I thought, ‘What is he going to do with that?'” said Bernhard Langer. “Then I saw the most amazing shot I have ever seen.”
Ballesteros somehow hit out of the sand, beyond the lip, over the water and onto the green. He made his par and halved his match with Zoeller. U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus called it “the finest shot I have ever seen.”
And it speaks to how the Ryder Cup was regarded in 1983. While it is considered among the most spectacular shots Ballesteros played, no video footage of it has been found.