Tributes poured in from across the globe Saturday after five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros died of brain cancer, with players moved to tears by the passing of the dashing Spaniard who transformed European golf and the Ryder Cup.
Ballesteros died one day after his family said he had severely deteriorated in his recovery from multiple surgeries to remove a malignant brain tumor in 2008. He was 54.
"His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed," Tiger Woods wrote on Twitter. "His death came much too soon."
George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, called it "a very sad day for all who love golf" and said Ballesteros was the inspiration behind the tour.
The Spanish Open — site of Ballesteros' record 50th and last European Tour win in 1995 — planned to honor Ballesteros with a minute of silence during Saturday's third round, where former Ryder Cup partner Jose Maria Olazabal broke into tears before his tee time.
"I'm going to play because that's the greatest honor I could give Seve," said Olazabal, who teamed with Ballesteros to form one of the Ryder Cup's greatest partnerships.
Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, recalled Ballesteros' "strength, his fighting spirit and passion for everything he did." He said he last met Ballesteros on April 16.
"He wasn't well but he was lucid," Olazabal said. "We spoke about a lot of things and memories of the Ryder Cup. The best homage we can pay him is to continue playing, but I don't think any of the homages we make will ever be sufficient enough."
Also moved to tears on Saturday was Rafael Nadal, the top-ranked tennis star who called his win over Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Madrid Open inconsequential.
"This morning the first thing I did was to turn on TV, and the first thing I saw was that he had died," said Nadal, who recalled the time he played 18 holes with Ballesteros.
"It's a day of sadness when you wake up with news like that. You face your day differently. It is a loss that we'll never get back due to all the values that Seve had," Nadal said. "But luckily we have all of his videos and also we can remember him."
Ballesteros' funeral will be Wednesday in Pedrena, his native home in northern Spain, with family and close friends attending the subsequent wake. Three days of official mourning will be held in Cantabria, according to regional government head Miguel Angel Revilla.
"It is such a sad day for Spain, Europe and the world of golf, which has lost one of its icons," said Colin Montgomerie, who knew Ballesteros well from the Ryder Cup. "But it is only right to celebrate his life. It was an honor to play for him and with him."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called Ballesteros a trailblazer.
"Severiano marks a before and after point in Spanish sports — his example opened the way for the extraordinary moment which our country's sports is living through now," Zapatero said in a statement. "He knew how to symbolize the image of the new, democratic Spain."
Spanish golf federation President Gonzaga Escauriaza said Ballesteros was a "unique, unrepeatable person" who helped grow the game in his native country.
No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood wrote on Twitter: "It's a sad day. Lost an inspiration, genius, role model, hero and friend. Seve made European golf what it is today."
Three-time major winner Nick Price said Ballesteros was "light years ahead" after seeing him for the first time when they were both 21, calling it a "mesmerizing" moment. The pair dueled at the 1988 British Open, with Ballesteros rallying from a two-stroke deficit to beat Price by two shots with a final round 65 for his last major championship.
"He did for European golf what Tiger Woods did for worldwide golf. The European Tour would not be where it is today if not for Seve Ballesteros," Price, whose brother died from the same ailment last year, said from a Champions Tour event in Alabama. "His allegiance to the European Tour was admirable. The guy, he was an icon, just an incredible golfer."
Fanny Sunesson, the former caddie for Nick Faldo during some of those Ryder Cups, was asked her recollections and began to cry. "The tears say it all," she said.
Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, recalled Ballesteros' kindness.
"Such a competitive guy, so I always appreciated that he took the time to say something nice," Lehman said. "As a competitor, he didn't have to do that, but he did."
He also marveled at the Spaniard's attitude.
"His body language was the strongest of anybody, maybe save Tiger in recent years," Lehman said. "I've always said that his body language said, 'Hey, I may have hit a really crappy shot right there, but if you miss this next one, you'll miss the greatest shot ever hit.' That's just the way he walked, the way he acted, the way he carried himself."
All La Liga soccer games in Spain began after a minute's silence held in memory of Ballesteros. Hercules team captain Francisco Pena placed flowers on the center of the field next to a pair of golf clubs before the match with Racing Santander. Racing players emerged from the dressing room with a golf cart bearing a club jersey and a slogan saying "Seve forever."
AP Sports Writers Mike Cranston and Doug Ferguson in Charlotte, N.C., John Zenor in Birmingham, Ala., and Joseph Wilson in Terrassa, Spain, contributed to this report.
Paul Logothetis can be followed at http://twitter.com/PaulLogoAP