- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seve Ballesteros, a five-time major champion whose passion and gift for imaginative shot-making invigorated European golf and the Ryder Cup, has died from complications of a cancerous brain tumor. He was 54.

A statement on Ballesteros’ website Saturday said the golf great died peacefully at 2:10 a.m. local time, surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena, in northern Spain.

Ballesteros was as inspirational in Europe as Arnold Palmer was in America, a handsome figure who feared no shot and often played from where no golfer had ever been.

In a long list of spectacular shots, perhaps the most memorable came from a parking lot next to the 16th fairway at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in the 1979 British Open. Leading by two shots in the final round, he drove into the car park, had a car removed to get his free drop, then fired his second shot into 15 feet and made birdie on his way to his first major.

“He was a man who got into trouble. Only for Seve, there was no such thing as trouble,” Gary Player once said. “He could manufacture shots like a genius.”

His last challenge came from an unbeatable foe _ cancer.

Ballesteros fainted in a Madrid airport while waiting to board a flight to Germany on Oct. 6, 2008, and was subsequently diagnosed with the brain tumor. He underwent four separate operations, including a 6 1/2-hour procedure to remove the tumor and reduce swelling around the brain. After leaving the hospital, his treatment continued with chemotherapy.

Ballesteros looked thin and pale while making several public appearances in 2009 after being given what he referred to as the “mulligan of my life.” He rarely has been seen in public since March 2010, when he fell off a golf cart and hit his head on the ground.

His few appearances or public statements were usually in connection with his Seve Ballesteros Foundation to fight cancer. He wanted but was unable to take part in a champions exhibition at St. Andrews.

Such was his stature, even out of the public eye, that European players celebrated his most recent birthday _ the Saturday of the Masters _ as if it was a national holiday.

For such greatness, his career was relatively short because of back injuries.

Ballesteros won a record 50 times on the European tour, first as a 19-year-old in the Dutch Open, his final victory when he was 38 at the 1995 Peugeot Open in his native Spain. That also was his last year playing in the Ryder Cup, where he had a 20-12-5 record in eight appearances. He was captain in 1997 when Europe won at Valderrama.

Ballesteros was the reason the Ryder Cup was expanded in 1979 to include continental Europe, and it finally beat the United States in 1985 to begin more than two decades of dominance. While others have played in more matches and won more points, no player better represents the spirit and desire of Europe than Ballesteros.

He announced his retirement in a tearful press conference at Carnoustie before the 2007 British Open. Ballesteros had returned to Augusta National that year to play the Masters one last time, but shot 86-80 to finish last. After turning 50, he tried one Champions Tour event, but again came in last.

His back was ailing, his eyes were no longer as lively, and his best game had left him years earlier.

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