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Remembering Seve

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Five-time major champion. Ryder Cup legend. Six-time Order of Merit winner.

They are three simple ways to describe Spanish legend Severiano Ballesteros, who passed away on Saturday after a long battle with brain cancer.

Truth be told, they are not enough positive adjectives in the thesaurus that would give Ballesteros his just due.

"The best tribute we can pay to Seve is to go on playing for him, although no tribute will ever do justice to everything he did for golf and to everything he gave us," said his countryman Jose Maria Olazabal.

Unfortunately, we should have realized his death was coming sooner rather than later when it was announced his doctors felt he was too weak to travel to the Masters in April.

"What impressed most in Seve was his strength, his fighting spirit and the passion he put into everything he did. I saw him for the last time the Saturday after the Masters," Olazabal stated. "He was not well, but his head was clear. We talked about many things - so many common memories, and particularly about the Ryder Cup."

Many European Tour players said Ballesteros was Europe's version of Arnold Palmer, while others said he was a mix of Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

To be a living legend is one thing, to be compared to two other legends is another.

Ballesteros learned the game in fields and on beaches. That showed as he had one of the best, most creative short games in the history of golf.

"Five majors, three British Opens and two U.S. Masters, do not pay a big enough tribute to the man who started golf hitting pebbles with an old three- iron on a beach in northern Spain," Lee Westwood commented. "He was simply a fantastic golfer and he seemed to specialize in escape shots. Getting up and down from anywhere was something he was supremely gifted in."

Such was the case at the site of his first major championship victory, the 1979 British Open Championship.

Ballesteros hit his drive on the 16th hole into a car park, but hit a remarkable second shot onto the green and poured in the birdie putt that helped secure the title. He was thus dubbed the "Car Park Champion at the 1979 Open Championship."

As great as he was for the European Tour, it was his love for the Ryder Cup that showed golf fans around the world his true talent. He competed in eight Cups starting in 1979, the first year players from continental Europe were invited to play in the event.

"I would maybe highlight the 1997 Ryder Cup, where I was his assistant. It was a truly special week. I loved to watch him fulfill one of his dreams and enjoy it so much," said countryman Miguel Angel Jimenez of Ballesteros captaining the Europeans to victory. "Seve's passion for the Ryder Cup was unique."

He teamed with Olazabal in several Ryder Cups and they become known as the "Spanish Armada."

They were the most successful duo in Ryder Cup history. From 1987 to 1991, Ballesteros and Olazabal won 10 of a possible 12 points (nine wins, two halves) when paired together.

His 20-12-5 overall record at the Ryder Cup shows he wasn't just a good teammate, but he could battle the best of them in singles.

"We played in the Ryder Cup in 1995 and I remember the heart he had. He hit it all over the map, but his short game was just magic," said Tom Lehman, who later captained the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup. "He kept himself in the match through 10 or 11 holes. Nobody could have done it with the places he hit it that day, but he did."

Since the late 1990s, people have talked about the way Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson spray the ball all over the place. Some of their creativity surely came from watching Ballesteros escape jam after jam.

Mickelson, especially, had a true fondness for the Spaniard. Mickelson's champions dinner at this year's Masters featured Spanish fare in tribute to Ballesteros.

One last tribute to Seve will come this week at the Players Championship.

Since Tim Clark's victory last year, the South African flag has topped the Circle of Champions at the TPC Sawgrass.

Out of respect for Ballesteros, the South African flag was replaced on Sunday by the Spanish flag, which will remain at half mast until next Sunday when the South African flag will be raised, then replaced by the flag from the new champions' home country.

HARRINGTON AVOIDS DQ

Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington avoided disqualification on Sunday after he argued his case with playing partner Phil Mickelson and a pair of PGA Tour rules officials.

A spectator thought Harrington had teed his ball up in front of the marker on the par-three 13th. He acknowledge afterwards, "I actually tee back quite a lot, but I was pushing forward on that particular one because obviously I was hitting a six-iron and needed to get there."

The two players and officials went over the video tape and even went back to the tee box to confirm whether or not Harrington was in fact behind the marker.

"For once, I am not going to be a martyr and take it," Harrington said in a television interview. "It's not conclusive so there's no penalty."

Mickelson agreed. He said in a TV interview, "It's not an issue. Padraig is one of the most honorable guys we have on tour."

Later, in an interview session, Mickelson added, "I remember watching him move the ball back, and he checked it. I'm fine with it."

Harrington was disqualified earlier this year when a television viewer called the European Tour and said Harrington had inadvertently moved his ball while marking it.

European Tour officials reviewed the tape and deemed the caller was right. Harrington was then disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

This time, Harrington fought back and proved he was right.

MINI-TIDBITS

- The PGA, Champions and Nationwide Tours all stopped action on Sunday in a tribute to Ballesteros. The European Tour halted action briefly on Saturday for the Spaniard.

- I hope you had more than one television tuned into golf on Sunday. There were playoffs on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour at the same time. Both tours have seen their last three events end with extra holes.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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