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Classic Ryder Cup encounters

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Ben Dirs | 07:06 UK time, Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A few years back, I was chatting to my BBC Radio 5 live boxing colleagues over a couple of post-fight beers and they were rather bemused to discover that my favourite event on the sporting calendar was golf's Ryder Cup.

How could someone so fascinated by a sport as visceral, dangerous and gladiatorial as boxing be in thrall to a bunch of mild-mannered chaps in matching v-necks and slacks engaging in one of the most genteel sports of all?

Well, the Ryder Cup might not be dangerous but I would argue it's about as visceral as it gets - and, due to its blow-by-blow dynamics, not entirely un-gladiatorial. Oh, and as I pointed out to my 5 live friends, unlike boxing the Ryder Cup almost always delivers, making it very much 'The Milkman' of sporting events.

Cast your eyes over the BBC Sport website's greatest Ryder Cup encounters below - and don't forget to let us know about all your favourite memories of the event.

Tony Jacklin v Jack Nicklaus, Royal Birkdale 1969

Nicklaus, playing in his first Ryder Cup, conceded a two-foot birdie putt on the last for a half that meant the match was tied for the first time in its 42-year history.

Tony Jacklin (left) and Jack Nicklaus

Jacklin (left) halved his match with Nicklaus after the American conceded a two-foot putt on the last

"I don't think you would have missed that putt," Nicklaus said to Jacklin afterwards, "but in these circumstances I would never give you the opportunity."

As holders, the United States retained the trophy but not everyone in Nicklaus's team was charmed by his gesture. "All the boys thought it was ridiculous to give him that putt," said Sam Snead, the US captain that year. "We went over there to win, not to be good ol' boys."

Sam Torrance v Andy North, The Belfry 1985

Europe had last won the trophy in 1958 but went into the final day leading 9-7 and blitzed the visiting Americans in the singles, winning six of the first eight matches.

Scotland's Sam Torrance had been three down against reigning US Open champion Andy North but fought back to make it all square as they stood on the 18th tee.

North found water while Torrance safely found the green in two, before being mobbed by a posse of team-mates on the fairway. Torrance made his 18-foot birdie putt before holding his putter aloft in triumph, one of the Ryder Cup's defining images.

Christy O'Connor Jr v Fred Couples, The Belfry 1989

United States skipper Raymond Floyd described his side as "the 12 greatest players in the world" at the pre-match ball and, with Europe trailing in nine of the singles matches on the final day, it looked like he might be right.

Christy O'Connor Jr

O'Connor is given a rapturous reception after his miraculous two-iron on the 18th at The Belfry

Irishman O'Connor and the big-hitting Couples were all square on the 18th before Couples melted his drive 300 yards off the tee, leaving his rival trailing in his wake.

However, O'Connor pulled out a peach from 235 yards out, a two iron over water to within a few feet of the hole, before Couples muffed his nine-iron approach. O'Connor secured a point and Europe could not be beaten when Jose-Maria Canizares beat Ken Green. The match finished 14-14 and, as holders, Europe retained the trophy.

Seve Ballesteros & Jose Maria Olazabal v Paul Azinger & Chip Beck, Kiawah Island 1991

Ballesteros and Azinger had history. At The Belfry two years earlier the spiky pair had been involved in an ugly singles encounter, which left the Spaniard opining that the "American Ryder Cup side was 11 nice guys and Paul Azinger".

Both men had back-up when they met again in a foursomes during the so-called 'War on the Shore' but relations deteriorated further when Azinger accused Ballesteros of coughing each time Beck prepared to play, while the Spanish pair accused Azinger and Beck of switching balls.

Azinger denied cheating on more than one occasion, leading Seve to retort: "Oh no. Breaking the rules and cheating are two different things." For the record, Olazabal did most of the damage as he and Ballesteros ran out 2&1 victors.

Bernhard Langer v Hale Irwin, Kiawah Island 1991

After three days of bitter combat, replete with crass military metaphors and Americans decked out in desert fatigues, the 29th Ryder Cup came down to a six-foot putt in the final singles clash between American veteran Irwin and steely German Langer.

Irwin made bogey after spraying his approach right on 18, leaving Langer standing crouched over his putter, contorted into that awkward stance of his, the weight of a continent on his shoulders. If he holed his putt, the match was tied and Europe would retain the trophy. Miss it and the hosts would win the match for the first time since 1985.

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Langer stalked his ball for what seemed like an eternity before prodding it a shade right of the cup, triggering delirious celebrations among the American players and fans.

Nick Faldo v Curtis Strange, Oak Hill 1995

Strange was in the middle of the 16th fairway and Faldo was in the trees. All the American had to do was find the green with his approach to go dormie with two holes to play, knowing that a half would secure the Ryder Cup for his team.

Strange, a two-time US Open champion but a controversial captain's pick, leaked his six-iron miles right - "that was the shot that killed me," he'd later say - to throw Faldo a lifeline.

Strange then missed two short par putts at 17 and 18, while Faldo hit a magnificent wedge to within four feet of the hole at the last for an unlikely win. Ireland's Philip Walton secured the overall victory for Europe when he beat Jay Haas on the final hole.

Jose Maria Olazabal v Justin Leonard, Brookline 1999

Ben Crenshaw's United States team were trailing 10-6 going into the final day's singles and staring a third successive defeat in the face. Despite the odds, Crenshaw told the media on Saturday night: "I have a good feeling about tomorrow."

Sure enough, the Americans won the first six matches, leaving Mark James's side, three of whom had not played over the first two days, hanging on for dear life.

Leonard then rallied from four holes down with seven to play to stun Olazabal, the American draining a 45-foot birdie putt at the 17th that sparked a green invasion by team-mates, caddies and wives - what European co-captain Torrance called "one of the most disgusting things I've seen in my life". The thing is, Olazabal still had a birdie putt from 25 feet, a putt he missed to hand the hosts victory by a point.

Darren Clarke & Lee Westwood v Tiger Woods & Phil Mickelson, Oakland Hills 2004

United States skipper Hal Sutton decided to pair Woods and Mickelson for the morning fourballs on the opening day only to see his two biggest stars beaten 2&1 by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.

Undeterred, Sutton stuck to his guns for the afternoon foursomes but looked on in horror as Woods and Mickelson threw away a three-hole lead to lose by one hole to Clarke and Westwood.

All square on the 18th tee, Mickelson had missed the fairway by 40 yards, forcing his partner to take a penalty drop and giving him no chance of reaching the green. The look Woods gave Mickelson, a picture of contempt, is now part of Ryder Cup legend. "When you put two superstars together like that," said Sutton, "there's either good karma or bad karma, there's really not anything in between."

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  • Comment number 1.

    Followed the match between Gordon Brand Jr and Mark McCumber in 1989. When we were in the back of beyond on the 12th the scoreboards were looking awful. An hour later saw Canizares beat Green and it had turned around completely. Think that was the year when the Americans kept finding water at the 18th.

  • Comment number 2.

    I manned one of the on course scoreboards at The Belfry in 1989. As I made my way back towards the end of the day I heard the huge roar which I later found out to be for Christy O'Connors winning put. As I approached the tented village I saw a Guinness caravan where there were gathered many happy Irishmen drinking a velvet toast to Christy. Just then Concorde flew across the course & tipped its wings in recognition of the European team victory. Almost to a man, the Guinness drinkers looked upwards to the sky, most of them forgetting that they still had their drinks to their mouths. This resulted in a lot of wet, clothes stained drinkers and a lot of mirth amongst those who witnessed it.

  • Comment number 3.

    I am 23, and therefore do not remember a Ryder Cup from any earlier than 1999. Even then my only real memory is my dad nearly exploding with annoyance when Leonard made 'that' putt. Therefore I was hoping someone could explain why the Ryder Cup was always, seemingly, at The Belfry when it was our turn. Cracking course with a terrific finishing hole but there were plenty of other cracking courses on the continent, why weren't they used?

    On the match itself this year, heres hoping its good and close coming to the last day, with us edging it. I am torn between wanting to see Mcilroy play Woods, but aware that due to the media's misunderstanding of McIlroy's comments then he would get a bit of a slamming in the media were he then to lose.

    Europe 15 1/2 - 12 1/2 USA for me.

  • Comment number 4.

    SIMPLE. The Ryder Cup is the greatest.

    If it wasn't then the Americans would have refused to play in 99 because of the truly hideous shirts they were asked to wear on the final day! You get past the embarrassment because it's the Ryder Cup and there is nothing quite like it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Fred Couples 8&7 destruction of Ian Woosnam in the first singles of the 1997 Ryder Cup was some of the finest matchplay Golf I've ever seen. He something like -8 after 10 holes.

    That 1st point got the American confidence up and they nearly went on to "Do the Brookline before Brookline" in terms of the comeback against us but a few key points from Rocca over Woods, Langer over Faxon as well as the heroic halves from Bjorn against Leonard and Monty vs Hoch got us over the line.

  • Comment number 6.

    spot on Ben. I've been busy trying to convince the Australians I live amongst as to the Ryder Cup's standing as the premier sporting event, admittedly followed by the Ashes.

    A highlight has to be Darren Clarke's drive on the first tee of at the K Club in 2006, given the location and the recent loss of Clarke's wife that drive was immense and the crowd reaction was amazing. At the other end of the scale, rarely have I been as angry watching a sport event as in 1999 when the the US players and wives invaded the green.

    It's hard to explain what makes it so fascinating, is it because it's one of the few team golf events or the Euro USA rivalry? I don't think any other event places the same amount of pressure on single moments.

    Europe to walk it 18-10 McDowell top points scorer.

  • Comment number 7.

    "United States skipper Raymond Floyd described his side as "the 12 greatest players in the world" at the pre-match ball"

    To which Tony Jacklin responded 'I hope Ray is going to tell Seve he's only the 13th best player in the world because I wouldn't'

  • Comment number 8.

    WalshK - There was a singles match in 1981 between Tom Kite and Sandy Lyle which Kite won 3&2, which sounds pretty humdrum. However, apparently Lyle was eight under and Kite 10 under when the game ended, and some believe it to be the greatest matchplay singles ever played.

    roger_palmer - Totally agree about Brookline. I remember I was in Australia at the time and the people I was with were totally perplexed as to why I'd be so angry about a golf tournament. In fact, it was a little embarrassing... I think maybe it's allure comes from the fact that it's one of the few team events in which we take on the Americans. That doesn't happen much in 'our' big sports (cricket or football or rugby) and obviously never in their big sports (football, baseball and basketball). It's a theory... not sure we'll walk it though...

    jon - Lovely stuff...

  • Comment number 9.

    Post 3. Up until 85 the Ryder Cup was low profile in Europe as the American seemed just to have to turn up to win when they played Great Britain and Ireland.

    It was the adding of europe and paricularly the participation of the first generation of great European golfers like Ballesteros, Langer and Olazabal that evened things up.

    The competition was then between the European Tour and the US Tour. With no one wanting the cost of staging the event the European Tour held it for a number of years at its own course the Belfrey where the European Tour and the PGA had their own headquarters.

    It was only really after 85 and 89 that other countries and courses became keen on on holding the event.

    You mention the last hole at the Belfrey but what many people dont appreciate is that the 10th run back against the 18th. If you come off the 18th green and turn right the 10th tee is a matter of yards away.

    The 10th normally plays off about 330 yards but at the Ryder Cup they played off the front tee reducing it to about 275 to 280 yards. For those that don't know the hole the green is protected at the front by a virtual moat and is protected behind by a bank that makes playing down onto the green and keeping the ball on the green and out of the water very difficult. also there are tree that line it making it a virtual perfect fading drive to get to the green in one.

    Stndard order as such was to lay up and play a pitch to the green. In a four ball with Olazabal Ballesteros took on the "moat" and trees and with a wood in his hand let rip straight for the heart of the green. The ball duly landed on the green and held.

    The crowd as it were went wild and I am sure the sound could have been heard across the course. From then on the manhood of a golfer at the Ryder Cup was measured on whether they took on the water at the 10th at the Belfrey.

    The course goes out and back on itself for both the first and the second nine holes so the course is very compact.

    If you look at the folowing of the 18th you will see the 9th green virtually touches the back of the 18th green.

    The 10th tee is behind the tree overhanging the 18th green.

    The following from the guardian best shows this.,,797512,00.html

  • Comment number 10.

    I think Darren Clarke's performance at the K Club in 2006 has to be the highlight for me ever since I started watching the tournament.

    Really hope Europe can do the business this time. Last time Americans had a few unknowns in Anthony Kim and Boo Weekly, who did really well, and hopefully Montgomerie's wild cards will do it this time.

    16 - 12 to Europe!

  • Comment number 11.

    I like the Ryder cup, but lets not go overboard. It's not the Open (either British or US), it's a bit convoluted/made for tv, and some of the best players in the world miss out. Bit unusual having the BBC so strongly promote a SKY programme (I know it's on 5-live, but c'mon)

  • Comment number 12.

    cardboard-cutout - No, it's not The Open or the US Open - it's miles better than either of those! That was my point when I referred to the Ryder Cup as 'The Milkman' of sporting events - while The Open can be dull (like this year), and while we often get humped in the Ashes, and the cricket and football World Cups can be pretty pony (let's be honest), the Ryder Cup never fails to deliver. Also, not sure how you can say it's made for TV - the first one took place in 1927.

    Also, it's not unusual for us to promote a Sky event - that's not really the BBC way, the BBC does't see it as a 'Sky event', it's just a great sporting event, full-stop. We have ball-by-ball coverage of every England Test and one-dayer, but they're not on BBC TV either.

  • Comment number 13.

    Cheers for your answer Ben. I enjoy the Ryder cup, but obviously don't buy into it as much as you. That could be because it's every 2 years and i have a bad memory, because i've never felt "hatred" for the USA (as P. Casey would say), or because it feels strange supporting Europe, as the Ryder cup is the only place this happens.
    In retrospect, saying something was made for TV isn't a bad thing, in fact I guess it's a great thing for Sky, I just wish it was on the BBC TV so I could watch in my living room rather than down the pub.
    Maybe this years match will change my mind, as usual I will watch the Sunday down the pub, but it just seems that this should be a bit more fun but is taken a bit too seriously. There we go, that's what I think.

  • Comment number 14.

    Had my Sky installed a couple of weeks ago in readiness for this year's Ryder Cup and I really can't wait for the action to get started. Have to agree it never fails to deliver. Sunday singles is the best day of golf you can hope for, tooing and froing you don't get to see in any other sport. Earliest memory is of Langer's missed putt in 1991 (I didn't realise it was that long ago now!). I don't think I really have a greatest memory, it's one of those events where I just enjoy the whole occasion. A level playing field where I really do think the best team wins. You can have 12 individuals but if they don't gel and the captain doesn't get the partnerships right then there's every chance of an upset.

    I'm going for a European win this year. I think Monty will get them fired up and we'll be winning that gold trophy back again.

  • Comment number 15.

    #9 Ian the Chopper - It became Europe in 1983 and that was my first memory of the Ryder Cup and if I remember correctly it was a close contest at Palm Beach, it was this that sparked the Ryder Cup and the subsequent European Victory at the Belfry in '85 that has led it to one of the greatest sporting events on the planet.

    Best memories, 2006 - Woosie downing a pint of Guinness on the balcony of the K Club and Clarke's admission that someone had moved his ball marker after an overnight rain delay.

    I think Monty's demolition of Scott Hoch in the singles at the Belfry in
    as first man out set the tone for the 2002 victory.

    Bring it on!

  • Comment number 16.

    #15 - If my memory serves, the issue of Clarke's ball marker having been moved was not at the Ryder Cup but at the Irish Open. To the best of my knowledge, no Ryder Cup match has ever been held over to the next day due to a weather or any other delay.

  • Comment number 17.

    Great article.
    I am not a golfer (unless you count crazy golf in Gt Yarmouth)and without doubt, the greatest sporting event for me is the Ryder Cup.
    I love the fact that golf is the most singular major sport and the golfers of today are handsomely rewarded - However there is this team that comes together every two years to play for a point for the continent/country. Great banter between the fans (Europe chanting 'one song, you've only got one song, to the obviuos USA chants.) It really is a wonderful occasion that has made me cry with pride and passion from my first cup back in 85.

    Go Europe

  • Comment number 18.


    I think you are right.

  • Comment number 19.

    I've gotta say that the Ryder Cup is probably my favorite sporting event in the world.Cricket has match fixing ,the olympics has drug taking,tour de france same thing,snooker match fixing,darts only one man seems to win,football dont get me started and rugby they change the rules during the six nations...

  • Comment number 20.

    I made another became Europe in 1979 apart from those 2 gaffes my comments were accurate.


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