The 44th Ryder Cup kicks off on Sept. 28 at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, where 12-man squads of the best male players from the United States and Europe will compete against each other in the game’s most exciting format—team match play. Instead of money at stake for the world’s top golfers, there’s national pride. Add incredible drama, adrenaline, camaraderie and exuberant fans, and the result is an immensely popular event that’s must-see television.
Through the years, the Ryder Cup has delivered some of the most dramatic moments in the history of professional golf. Here are five of the best:
1999: The Country Club (Brookline, Massachusetts, United States)
The final Ryder Cup of the 20th century had all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, including a young Tiger Woods eager to make a mark and great expectations for a big American win. Going into the singles matches on Sunday, however, the U.S. team was in a big hole – down 10-6 and needing to secure at least eight and a half points out of 12 to take over possession of the Cup, while team Europe needed just four points to retain it since they were the defending champions. But the U.S. rallied to win the first six matches, and then took a 14-12 lead. After having been four down in his match against José María Olazábal, Justin Leonard rolled in a 45-foot birdie on 17 to clinch the most unlikely comeback ever. Mayhem ensued, as Leonard ran around the green with his arms up in victory formation. His teammates and their wives swarmed him in what may be golf’s loudest moment ever.
2002: The Belfry (Sutton Coldfield, England)
After the Ryder Cup was postponed for a year due to 9/11, it returned in 2002 with the identical cast of players who had been scheduled to compete in 2001. The European team were the underdogs even on home field, and they scrambled hard to get to Sunday tied with the Americans at 8-8. Then Euro captain Sam Torrance employed a previously-unheard-of strategy for the singles matches—he front-loaded his lineup so all his best players were at the top of the tee sheet, while U.S. captain Curtis Strange kept his stars to the end. Torrance’s strategy worked and the Euros took a commanding lead early, leaving unheralded 35-year-old Ryder Cup rookie Paul McGinley with a putt on 18 to halve his match against Jim Furyk for the team victory. He stepped up to his 10-footer and promptly sunk it. In celebration, he then famously jumped into the greenside lake alongside a couple of his teammates.
2006: K Club (County Kildare, Ireland)
Europe won the 2006 Ryder Cup convincingly–18.5 to 9.5 points–and Swedish rookie Henrik Stenson made the winning putt shortly after Luke Donald nailed his putt to ensure Europe retained the trophy. But it was the play of Darren Clarke that had audiences across the globe watching intently all week. Clarke had tragically lost his wife Heather to breast cancer just six weeks before the Ryder Cup, and he’d accepted a captain’s pick spot from captain Ian Woosnam on the team because she’d urged her to before she died. Playing through immense scrutiny, Clarke ended up winning all three of his matches—including his final-day singles match against Zach Johnson. He’d kept his emotions in check until that moment, but when the final putt went in, the floodgates opened for both Clarke and everyone watching on site and at home. “I was gone,” Clarke said when speaking about the aftermath in 2020. “I couldn’t contain it anymore.” Immediately after the final match, Team Europe dedicated the victory to Heather Clarke.
2012: Medinah Country Club (Chicago, Illinois, United States)
The “Miracle at Medinah” saw huge home favorites Team U.S.A. take a commanding 10-6 lead heading into the final day, the same margin the European team had led by in the famous 1999 “Battle of Brookline” before losing it all on Day 3. The momentum started to shift late on Day 2, when Europe was down 10-4 until Ian Poulter birdied all five remaining holes in his fourball match alongside Rory McIlroy to grab a 1-up win over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner to fire up Team Europe. Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald then conquered Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker by the same margin and all of a sudden there was hope. Sunday’s continued comeback by Europe–capturing eight of the 12 singles matches and tying another–is considered one of the greatest in Ryder Cup history. Martin Kaymer’s five-footer on 18 defeated Steve Stricker to put his team up 14-13. And then in the final match, Tiger Woods missed his putt on the last hole and conceded to Francesco Molinari.
2016: Hazeltine National Golf Club (Chaska, Minnesota, United States)
When the Ryder Cup came to Hazeltine, it had been eight years since America’s last victory. Team U.S.A had a bone to pick and started strong by sweeping the morning session on Day 1, and by the end of Day 2, still held a decisive three-point lead. But it was the fireworks of especially one match in Sunday singles that made this Ryder Cup stand out. With memories of strong comebacks fresh in their minds, Europe sent out their best first to try to flood the leaderboard with blue and swing the momentum. Match No. 1 featured Patrick Reed versus Rory McIlroy, and the two put up one of the greatest duels in Ryder Cup history. Each player scored a flurry of birdies, in a thrilling back-and-forth match that went down to the 18th hole, where Reed nailed a 10-foot birdie to seal his win to thunderous celebrations from the home crowd. Europe did win three of the first five matches that day, but Team U.S.A countered with victories in five of the final six for an ultimate 17-11 victory.
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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com