The 10 Greatest Ryder Cup Matches of All Time, Ranked
Every Ryder Cup endures in memory for different reasons, a highlight reel of heartache and heroics from a crucible of pressure unlike any in the game. Hazeltine will no doubt deliver its own moments. But as we look ahead to this month in Minnesota, we're also looking back through the finest of the footage. Here they are: the 10 greatest Ryder Cup matches of all time.
10. RICKIE FOWLER vs. EDOARDO MOLINARICeltic Manor Resort, Wales, 2010
Not all halves are created equal. And few are finer than the one Fowler eked out in Sunday singles, part of an American rally that fell just short. Four down with four to play, Rickie responded with four straight birdies, capped by a clutch 15-foot putt on 18 to salvage a half-point. To this day, Fowler has yet to notch a win in Ryder Cup competition, but this unlikely tie felt like one.
9. IAN POULTER AND RORY MCILROY vs. ZACH JOHNSON AND JASON DUFNERMedinah Country Club, Medinah, IL, 2012
Never mind the Sunday Miracle at Medinah. The real madness began in the Saturday afternoon fourballs, when Poulter, already widely known as a Ryder Cup killer, sealed his reputation as a bug-eyed assassin, carding five consecutive birdies to close the match. For good measure, Poulter went out the next day and beat Webb Simpson in singles, part of an early wave in Europe's stunning comeback win.
8. JUSTIN LEONARD vs. JOSE MARIA OLAZABALThe Country Club, Brookline, MA, 1999
You can question the comportment of his stampeding teammates, but there's no rebuking Leonard's own performance in the run-up to his epic putt on 17. A long way from his A-game, Leonard scuffled early, only to scrap back from four-down against Olazabal and bring things to all square. Then came his 45-foot breaking bomb -- a putt that sealed the deal in an historic comeback -- and on came the Americans, trampling the green in a controversial celebration that lives more vividly in memory than Leonard's gutty demonstration.
7. CHRISTY O’CONNOR JR. vs. FRED COUPLESThe Belfry, England, 1989
In most singles matches that go the distance, we recall the big putts and the painful misses. O'Connor all but ended this one a long way from the green. On the 18th hole, all square with his opponent but a mile behind him in the fairway, O'Connor pulled a two-iron from 200-plus yards. "If you put him under pressure, I promise you will win the hole," European captain Tony Jacklin told his man. Prescient comment. O'Connor smoked his approach to three-and-a-half feet, and a rattled Couples, wielding nine-iron, missed the green.
6. SEVE BALLESTEROS vs. FUZZY ZOELLERPGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 1983
On of golf history’s indelible Seve moments came from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where the Spaniard stood, all-square with Zoeller, needing to halve the hole to halve his match. This was the era of persimmon headed clubs. But this was also Severiano Ballesteros. Some 245 yards from the green, he grabbed a three-wood made of actual wood and whistled an approach that barely cleared a steep bunker lip and later flew a water hazard that fronted the green. A par for Seve. A half point for his team. U.S captain Jack Nicklaus called it the greatest shot he had ever seen.
5. EAMON DARCY vs. BEN CRENSHAWMuirfield Village, Dublin, OH, 1987
In an early-round burst of frustration, Gentle Ben was less than gentle with his putter, snapping the traitorous club on the 6th green. But on he played, relying on a three-iron as a substitute putter, and wielding it well enough to push the match to 18, where Darcy won with a nervy 8-foot putt. It was Darcy's first victory in 10 Ryder Cup matches, and it helped give Europe its first win on American soil. Did Darcy have any doubt that he’d drain the clincher? No, he said after, "But if it missed, I wasn't sure I would hole the one back."
4. HALE IRWIN vs. BERNHARD LANGERThe Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, SC, 1991
Any lingering doubts that Ryder Cup had grown into a seriously knee-rattling affair faded with the anchor match on Sunday, as two of the game’s steeliest competitors staggered from the pressure down the stretch. All square on 18, Irwin caught a break when his errant drive caromed off a spectator and back into the short grass. But Langer still had a chance to beat him with a five-footer for all the marbles, a par putt that went just wide. Pandemonium erupted on the U.S. side, ending what became known as the War by the Shore, an event emblematic of the bloodless battle that the once friendly competition had become.
3. NICK FALDO vs. CURTIS STRANGEOak Hill Country Club, Rochester, NY, 1995
The two men had dueled famously once before, in an 18-hole playoff at the 1988 U.S. Open. In that match, Strange had walked away the winner, but by 1995, the old swagger had left his step. A captain's pick, he was battling both a flawed swing and the winningest player in Ryder Cup history. Still, Strange was 1 up heading into 16; a par on any of the final three holes would have done it for him. It was not to be. All square on 18, Strange split the fairway and Faldo found the trees. But the Englishman scratched out a par as Strange fanned an iron on his approach and made a bogey. The Americans also lost the two next matches, giving the Europeans an upset win.
2. PAUL AZINGER vs. NICK FALDOThe Belfry, England, 1993
On the face of it, they came off as polar opposites -- the emotive Yank and the stoic English grinder. But in their will to win, they were more like kin. Those contrasts and commonalities, so clearly on display in their final-round battle at the ’87 British Open, sprang to the fore once more in their Sunday tête-à-tête at The Belfry, where each man played according to type: Faldo with icy, relentless resolve; Azinger with fearless fire. When Faldo aced the 14th to go one-up, it appeared the match was destined to fall in his favor, but Azinger, undaunted, birdied the next hole to quiet the home crowd, then birdied the 18th to ensure a half. Though their match was over, their rivalry lived on, extending, notably, to the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, where they met as opposing captains. In the run-up to the event, which the Americans won, the news was filled with stories of bad blood between them. For the most part, the contentiousness seemed playful and publicity-minded, but deep down you got the sense that a good deal of it was real.
1. JACK NICKLAUS vs. TONY JACKLINRoyal Birkdale, England, 1969
The fierce rivalry we know today was meant to be a friendly exhibition, a fact not lost on Nicklaus in the final singles match in 1969. With the team score deadlocked going into the day, and their deciding match all-square on 18, Nicklaus conceded Jacklin a testy two-footer, ensuring that the competition ended in a tie. His generous act of sportsmanship came off as all the grander in the context of a week that began in petty fashion when Great Britain & Ireland captain Eric Brown instructed his players not to help their opponents hunt for lost balls in the rough. Nicklaus rose above that. "I don't think you would have missed that, Tony," Jack told Jacklin afterward. "But I didn't want to give you the chance."