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Ballesteros Succumbs to Brain Cancer


Seve Ballesteros died Saturday from complications of a cancerous brain tumor. The legendary player passed away at his home in Pedrena, Spain. He was 54.

A notice on his website (http://www.seveballesteros.com/home.php?lang=2) said: "Today, at 2.10 a.m. Spanish time, Seve Ballesteros passed away peacefully surrounded by his family at his home in Pedreña.

"The Ballesteros family is very grateful for all the support and gestures of love that have been received since Seve was diagnosed with a brain tumor on 5th October 2008 at Madrid Hospital la Paz. At this time the family asks for respect and privacy at such a painful time."

Ballesteros was a five-time major champion whose imagination on the course and fiery personality made him one of the premier players in the mid-1970s and 1980s. Much like Arnold Palmer in the early 1960s, his swashbuckling, go-for-broke style revolutionized the game and attracted millions of new fans from across the globe.

Perhaps Ballesteros's greatest legacy was his performances in the Ryder Cup that reversed a trend which saw the United States previously dominate the Europeans in the biennial competition. Ballesteros, a great head-to-head competitor who finished his career tied with Gary Player with the most wins - five - in the Match Play Championship, scored 22½ points in 37 Ryder Cup matches.

He and fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, formed the most successful pairing in Ryder Cup history with 11 wins and two halved matches out of 15 pairs' matches.

A back injury in the 1990s slowed his competitive career, so Ballesteros turned to golf course design and other activities. He officially retired in 2007. The following year, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

In June 2009, he launched the Seve Ballesteros Foundation, which helps cancer victims fight the disease. The foundation aims to provide assistance to research cancer, especially brain tumors, while also helping financially challenged junior golfers.

Despite several lengthy and complicated surgeries following the original diagnosis, he wasn't able to recover from the disease. At last month's Masters, 2010 green jacket winner Phil Mickelson selected a Spanish-style menu for the Champions Dinner in tribute to the ailing Ballesteros, who was too sick to attend.

Not surprisingly, the encomiums came pouring in as news of his death became known. "He was the greatest show on earth," Nick Faldo said.

"Seve was one of the most talented and excited golfers to ever play the game," Tiger Woods said on Twitter. "His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed. His death came much too soon."

"Today, golf lost a great champion and a great friend. We also lost a great entertainer and ambassador for our sport," Jack Nicklaus said. "No matter the golf that particular day, you always knew you were going to be entertained. Seve's enthusiasm was just unmatched by anybody I think that ever played the game."

"This is such a very sad day for all who love golf," European Tour chief George O'Grady said on the tour website. "Seve's unique legacy must be the inspiration he has given to so many to watch, support and play golf, and finally to fight a cruel illness with equal flair, passion and fierce determination. We have all been so blessed to live in his era."

Lee Westwood, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, wrote on Twitter: "Seve made European golf what it is today."

The European Tour's Spanish Open is underway this weekend in Barcelona. In honor of Ballesteros, the course flags pins at Real de Golf Club were placed at half staff.

One of the entrants, Olazabal, had a tough time playing after hearing the sad news. Upon learning of their countryman's death, Olazabal and fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez wept in silence and comforted each other in a long embrace. They then went out and played their third rounds.

"I just played the most difficult round of my life. It was very tough to make it to the first tee and hit the first drive," the 45-year-old Olazabal said. He shot a 3-over 75.

"I didn't doubt about playing today. The last thing he would have wanted would have been for me not to play. I don't think there will ever be another player like him. There can be others that are very good, but none will have his charisma.

"Obviously, he has been present all the time," Olazabal added. "Our relationship was so close. I always felt privileged for all the moments that we shared together, and there have been many. Even though I knew what the situation was, when the moment arrives you are never sufficiently prepared."

Playing partner Colin Montgomerie said Olazabal was "in floods of tears most of the day. He has lost an older brother almost.

"It was very difficult to get too much out of Jose Maria - he was very tearful and filling up. You could see in his eyes the great loss he feels and they've been a great support for each other. He did well to play at all today," added Montgomerie, another European Ryder Cup stalwart. "It was his brother, really. It was a very, very sad day for him."

Olazabal and Ballesteros last got together on April 16. "He wasn't well but he was lucid. We spoke about a lot of things and memories of the Ryder Cup," said Olazabal, who wore a small black wreath on his baseball cap that other players and staff wore on their lapels to honor a player who won a record 50 times on the European Tour.

In 1997, Jimenez was an assistant to Ballesteros, who captained the victorious European Ryder Cup team. The event was held at Valderrama in Spain. "I was his assistant; it was a very special week. Seve's passion for the Ryder Cup was one of a kind," said Jimenez, who shot a 76 Saturday.

"The thing that really stands about him is his determination, his tenacity and his passion for everything that he did."

Cybergolf's Tony Dear was an ardent fan of Seve Ballesteros. Upon learning of Seve's original brain tumor diagnosis in 2008, Tony wrote "An Ode to Seve." For Tony's story, visit http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/an_ode_to_seve.