There are five hundred and eighty seven golfers between Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie in the World rankings and only one man could defy such insurmountable odds to beat the World number three ranking in head to head matchplay.
Ballesteros lead by example in the singles matches of the inaugural trophy held in his honour, defeating British Captain Colin Montgomerie by 2&1 in a performance evocative of the matadors’ greatest years.
And to top off a memorable week for the legendary Spaniard, he contributed perhaps the vital point in the 13½ to 12½ European victory over the British team.
Ballesteros was in some unfamiliar positions on the course, sitting pretty in the middle of the neatly criss-crossed fairways of Sunningdale. But he didn’t let the crowd down, playing some miraculous recovery shots we are all used to seeing in the autumn of his prestigious career.
The matador of old said that earlier on the week that he was past it. But he left a lasting reminder to all of his loyal fans in Great Britain, by beating the best the continent had to offer over the past seven years.
Both players halved the first hole in birdie fours, but an uncharacteristic bogey from Montgomerie at the second gave Ballesteros all the encouragement he needed to extend his lead with a spectacular birdie two at the short 4th hole. His five-iron into five feet sent the crowd wild with excitement. And when he holed the putt, memories of his past glories came flooding back.
But reality hit at the next when, as we have become accustomed, Seve found tree trouble to the right of the 5th fairway and gave a hole back to Monty in the process. Monty levelled the match at the seventh with a birdie three and nobody would have believed that Seve still had a chance of winning the top match.
But with Montgomerie missing every putt he looked at on the back nine, Seve took command, as he has been used to all through his glory years, and closed out the match.
But not without some final drama at the 17th hole. By that time in the match he was forgetting how to play out of difficult situations and promptly snapped hooked his three wood tee shot into the trees. The gap was two yards between the trees, the club was an eight iron and the shot was out of the top drawer. Forty five feet and two putts later, Seve pulled of the miraculous and stamped his name even further into the history books taking Monty’s scalp in head to head “serious” matchplay.
“I knew it was going to be very difficult to beat Colin. He is a great champion. He is playing well and I haven’t been playing well lately”. Said the victorious Captain Ballesteros.
“I started well with three birdies and he got it back and I made a couple of birdies and managed to stay there” Added the proud man.
Montgomerie was disappointed with his putting performance and knew that of you are going to play the legend in Matchplay, you have to put the ball in the hole with the short stick.
“I haven’t been getting the ball into the hole all year and it’s always been a problem and it remains that way. You cannot play matchplay golf putting like that, especially against someone of Seve’s calibre on the greens”. Said Monty.
“This was a point that we felt was secure. I have to be honest, I mean, we felt 85% that I would win that game and I haven’t”.
The other matches unfortunately had to take second place as history was being made thanks to the European Captain.
Darren Clarke recovered from his poor play of the morning to half his match with Spain’s up and coming young star Sergio Garcia.
The match was a struggle for both players and hole wins were sporadic. Clarke took command of the game in the early stages to turn at 2-up. But Garcia made a fight of it, winning the 10th and 11th before Clarke rallied back to 2-up at the 13th.
But he could not contain Garcia as the Spaniards putter warmed up and with birdies at the last two holes, Garcia claimed a valuable half point for the continentals.
Open Champion Paul Lawrie faced his adversary from last July, Jean Van de Velde and came out an easy 5&4 winner over the Frenchman to restore some pride back in the British camp. The Scot, helped along with able putting allied to a solid long game took fourteen holes to subdue his rival and record only the second point of the British team.
Lee Westwood played his part well in the singles with a gritty performance in his last hole victory over Thomas Bjorn. The match looked like it had half written all over it until Bjorn dumped his second shot at the 18th into the greenside bunker. He failed to extract it first time and fell yet again at the last hurdle in matchplay.
In the battle of the broom-handles, Bernhard Langer swept past Ian Woosnam 4&3 with the little Welshman never clicking into gear against the German.
Gary Orr also struggled to find top gear against the form man of the week, Jose Maria Olazabal, losing 2&1 to the Spaniard.
And David Howell may not have taken a singles win back to his home town of Swindon, losing 2&1 to Robert Karlsson, but he did take valuable experience and will surely be in next years Ryder Cup team at the Belfry if he carries on the sterling performances he put in this week.
Only Padraig Harrington salvaged a bit of British and Irish pride, narrowing the final scoreline to 13½ to 12½ with his win over the ‘Mechanic’, Miguel Angel Jimenez. (imagine what he looks like with an oily rag and overalls!)
But no one who witnessed this day will ever forget that it belonged to Seve. The man is an icon of 20th century sport and has given more to the game of golf than he could ever hope to take out of it. His victory over Montgomerie, individually and over his team, will be etched in memories to whoever witnessed the qualified success of this new matchplay event, sure to be a regular fixture for many years to come.
Could this be his last big win as both player and Captain, or will we have to wait for the final chapter of a career that spans four decades?
Fittingly, the last word should go to Seve, showing his appreciation and respect to the crowds who supported the event through the week, come rain or shine.
“I am very impressed with the people. The respect that they showed to both teams is something very special and I think it could only happen in this country. The players all behaved very professionally and took every shot seriously and that is what I wanted to see”.
SUNDAY SINGLES SCORES
Montgomerie lost to Ballesteros (2&1)
Clarke halved with Garcia
Bickerton lost to Sandelin (2&1)
Westwood beat Bjorn (1 hole)
Price beat Cejka (2&1)
Woosnam lost to Langer (4&3)
Howell lost to Karlsson (2&1)
Orr lost to Olazabal 2&1
Lawrie beat Van de Velde (5&4)
Harrington beat Jimenez (1 hole)
Pictures courtesy of www.wales-world-wide-sport.com