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Ryder Cup heroes and villains

ESPN staff
September 28, 2012
Tony Jacklin skippered Europe to their first win for 28 years © Getty Images

The Ryder Cup gets underway at Medinah Country Club on September 28. ESPN will have extensive coverage of the event - including interactive text commentary, reports and reaction - for all three days.

Ahead of the battle between Europe and the Americans, we round up the heroes and villains from Ryder Cups past...

Jack Nicklaus
It was, in many ways, the dream Ryder Cup scenario in 1969: it all came down to the final hole of the final match, between Tony Jacklin and Nicklaus. "How do you feel Tony?" asked Nicklaus on the fairway. "Bloody awful," came the reply. He would have been feeling even worse when he was faced with a knee-knocking three-footer to force the first-ever Ryder Cup tie. Instead of testing Jacklin's nerve, Nicklaus performed a feat of remarkable sportsmanship by picking up Jacklin's ball marker, meaning the hole was halved.

Tony Jacklin
Brian Barnes, veteran of multiple Ryder Cups, said of Jacklin: "Tony put everybody in the position they are now with the first-class flights, clothing and the whole damn shooting match." Jacklin never won the Ryder Cup as a player, but as captain he helped rebuild the prestige of the event - and, in 1985, skippered Europe to their first win for 28 years. He halted the seemingly unstoppable American team, and helped restore belief in the European side - despite having never previously tasted glory himself. The mark of a true leader.

Bernhard Langer
The German has veered between the extremes in his Ryder Cup career: as a player in 1991 at Kiawah Island, he was guilty of losing the final match to Hale Irwin, allowing America to snatch victory. However, he banished those ghosts as captain of the European side in 2004, masterminding a thumping 18½-9½ win. He was even considered by Colin Montgomerie for a playing pick in 2010, such was his form on the senior circuit.

Justin Leonard
Leonard can be cast as either hero or villain depending on which side of the divide you find yourself on. At Brookline in 1999, he trailed Jose Maria Olazabal by four on the back nine of their singles match - but battled back to leave it all square going into the 17th. At that stage, the stakes were obvious: America needed a half-point to complete the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Leonard sent off a 45-footer for birdie like a train, its do-or-die pace fitting the drama of the situation. If it missed, it was heading six feet past; somehow, it dropped, prompting players and wives to charge across the green - and across the line of the putt Olazabal had for a birdie of his own. When it settled down, Olazabal missed, and the Americans had won the Ryder Cup.

Justin Leonard stormed across the path of Jose Maria Olazabal's putt © Getty Images

Christy O'Connor
O'Connor has the distinction of having conjured one of the greatest - if not the greatest - shots in Ryder Cup history. Playing against Fred Couples at The Belfry in 1989 - O'Connor's second Ryder Cup, 14 years after his first - he took a two iron from the middle of the fairway at the 18th, cleared the daunting water ahead and landed the ball pin high, about four foot from the cup. It was an absolutely stunning approach, and his win over Couples allowed Europe to tie to the match and retain the trophy.

Seve Ballesteros
Ballesteros' influence is being keenly felt at Medinah, in what is the first Ryder Cup since his death in May 2011. The European team will have his silhouette on their golf bags, and this year's captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, was mentored by Ballesteros. The Spaniard played on the first European team to win in 28 years (1985) and first to win on American soil (1987), and he captained the team the first time the match was played in Spain (a European victory in 1997).

Peter Alliss
The divisive BBC commentator played in eight Ryder Cups, failing to make his mark and winning just one (in 1957). So far from a great record - and it started inauspiciously on his debut in 1953, when he blundered at crunch time as the US sneaked a tight tie. He lost by one stroke to Jim Turnesa at Wentworth as the cup slipped from Great Britain's grasp. However, it's not all bad for Alliss at the Ryder Cup: he is one of only two father-and-son duos to have played at the event.

Colin Montgomerie
History may remember Montgomerie as the man who wasted his prodigious talent by never winning a major, but his Ryder Cup record - 23.5 points gained - is narrowly shy of the all-time record held by Sir Nick Faldo. He scored a crucial half to win the cup for Europe in 1997, then led the charge at the Belfry in 2002 and Oakland Hills in 2004. As captain in 2010, he made some brave calls at Celtic Manor - leaving out Justin Rose and Paul Casey in favour of Edoardo Molinari - and was rewarded with victory in a tense contest.

Brian Barnes
Barnes was one of the characters of the game, perhaps better-known for his gregarious personality than his achievements; at the Scottish Professional Championship in 1982, he marked his ball with a beer can before putting out for the win. However, he had his brush with greatness in 1975 at the Ryder Cup when he beat Nicklaus twice in a day. Legend has it that Nicklaus requested the second meeting with Barnes, only to come out on the wrong end again.

Hunter Mahan
Mahan was reduced to tears after his flubbed chip on the 17th at Celtic Manor - the sort of shot you would never expect to see at that level - played a huge part in Europe's 2010 victory. Mahan, who was playing Graeme McDowell in the singles when the blunder occurred, said: "Graeme played great, didn't miss a shot. He played... he just beat me today", before he was unable to keep his composure.

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