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Who'll Reign In Spain?

September 25, 1997|MIKE JAMES / Los Angeles Times

For the first time in its 70-year history, the Ryder Cup will be contested outside Great Britain or the United States. Valderrama Golf Club, in southern Spain a few miles north of Gibralter, has been rated the No. 1 course in Continental Europe by Golf World magazine. Many call it the most meticulously manicured layout in the world, 18 holes with hundreds of gnarled cork trees and more than 500 olive trees framing narrow fairways and undulating, fast bentgrass greens.

There will be plenty of pressure on each of the golfers from the start--on the Europeans, who know the course from playing it annually in the Volvo Masters, and on the Americans, who they lost the last Ryder Cup in the U.S. and know little about Valderrama.

Runaway matches have always been the exception in the Ryder Cup; more than 90% since 1989 have reached the 15th hole. So pressure generally mounts, going from merely stifling at No. 1 to positively suffocating when the match is on the line. The final four holes are where the Ryder Cup is ultimately won or lost.

A few pivotal moments from the closing four holes of Ryder Cups past:

* In 1989, Mark Calcavecchia and Payne Stewart both hit tee shots in the water at No. 18 on the final day to halve their matches. Europe tied the U.S., 14-14, to retain the Cup.

* In '91, Calcavecchia was four up with four to play over Colin Montgomerie but finished triple bogey, bogey, triple bogey, bogey in one of the Cup's most extraordinary collapses. A U.S. victory that year barely consoled Calcavecchia.

* In '93, Davis Love III made a six-foot putt on 18 to beat Costantino Rocca, who had missed a crucial three-footer the hole before. Love said of his six-footer: "I almost threw up on myself. . . . I could not breathe. There was no saliva in my mouth."

* In 1995, Cup veteran Curtis Strange, 1-up with two to play, went bogey-bogey to lose to Faldo as the U.S. lost by a point.


The Course


Hole Yardage Par 1 389 4 2 399 4 3 173 3 4 535 5 5 381 4 6 163 3 7 461 4 8 345 4 9 441 4 Out: 3,287 35



Hole Yardage Par 10 364 4 11 547 5 12 197 3 13 402 4 14 370 4 15 200 3 16 422 4 17 511 5 18 434 4 In: 3,447 36 Total 6,734 71


No. 15

200 yards, par three

The longest par three on the course has a kidney-shaped green with two huge bunkers on the left and one on the right. The toughest pin placement will be in the back right, which will require a tee shot over the right-hand bunker.


No. 16

422 yards, par four

Some, including Ronan Rafferty, say this is the most difficult par for on the European PGA Tour. A narrow fairway slopes right to left and the green is protected by four bunkers. The wind often is in the player's face.


No. 17

511, par five

The most controversial hole on the course, redesigned by Seve Ballesteros. Difficult driving area, small area to lay up, dangerous pitch over water. Short shots will roll back into the water. This hole could decide many matches.


No. 18

434 yards, par four

A good finishing hole that provides a player who needs to gamble the opportunity to try to cut the dogleg left--if he can launch a drive over the trees. That will give a big advantage over a conservative tee shot since the green is protected left, right and back by bunkers.

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