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Payne Stewart
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Golfing world mourns loss of Payne Stewart
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European players add their tributes
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Golfing world mourns loss of Payne Stewart

Through their shock and sadness, Payne Stewart's friends and competitors remembered him today as far more than just a golfer in funny clothes.

To them, he was a giant of the game.

"What a wonderful man. He was a great credit to golf and to our country," said Billy Casper, who like Stewart was a two-time U.S. Open champion. "Golf lost a great man."

Greats of the past and present, stunned at Stewart's tragic death, joined to praise him both for his conquests on the course and the way he conducted his life off it.

From the quieted fairways of the Champions Golf Club in Houston where he was to play this weekend to the somber Orlando, Fla., neighborhood where Stewart lived, they offered their reflections.

"There is an enormous void and emptiness I feel right now," Tiger Woods said.

"One of the most terrible tragedies of modern day golf," was the way Arnold Palmer described it.

"He will be sorely missed by anyone who ever knew him or had the pleasure of watching him play," Jack Nicklaus said.

On a day the golf world started by celebrating a new Ryder Cup captain and looking forward to this week's Tour Championship, it ended in mourning a player whose knickers and tam o'shanter hat made him one of the most recognizable personalities in the game.

The plane crash that killed Stewart and four others quickly turned what had been a time of joy into one of grief for Curtis Strange, the new Ryder Cup captain.

"We have lost someone who is truly a great ambassador for the game," Strange said.

At the Champions Golf Club, workers continued to tend to the manicured fairways and greens in preparation for the season-ending Tour Championship. Stewart was on his way to Texas for the tournament when his plane crashed.

Flags flew at half mast, and there was a somber mood in the air.

"Missing him is just unbelievable," said course owner Jackie Burke, a longtime PGA member.

"He's an irreplaceable guy," Duffy Waldorf said. "I think of Payne Stewart and there's a guy that's going to be like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, a guy you want around all those years."

Jeff Maggert was at the course practicing for the tournament when he heard the news.

"It will be a tough week for all the players, for myself, for the wives, everyone," Maggert said. "It's a tragic situation"

The PGA Tour canceled the tournament's Tuesday pro-am, but the tournament was still scheduled to begin Thursday "like he would want us to do," Burke said.

"I don't think he should ever be replaced in this event," Burke said. "There will just be a spot there open for him."

Peter Jacobsen, one of Stewart's good friends on the PGA Tour who also played in a band with him occasionally, said Stewart's record, which included two U.S. Open titles as well as a PGA Championship, spoke for itself.

More than that, though, Jacobsen said Stewart's love of golf and its traditions should also be remembered.

"He had a real reverence for the game," Jacobsen said.

Justin Leonard, who played with Stewart in a losing alternate shot match against Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik in the Ryder Cup, had to go inside and compose himself after nearly breaking down while hearing the news at a promotional appearance in Fort Worth, Texas.

Stewart was the emotional leader of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, who wore his patriotism and pride to play for his country on his sleeve and urged his fellow players to do the same.

It was also Stewart who made all his teammates play ping-pong at night to relieve their stress and make them bond together as a team.

"It was very tense up there. It was something that gave you a nice little release," U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw said. "Payne was right."

Crenshaw said Stewart was "very much a believer in playing for his country, very much a patriot."

It wasn't only the American players who mourned Stewart, though. Members of Europe's Ryder Cup team, gathered in Jerez, Spain, for the Volvo Masters, were also devastated by the news.

Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal fought back tears as he remembered Stewart as a "true sportsman on the course and a gentleman off it."

"We all knew what the Ryder Cup meant to him, but he never lost perspective on what the match was all about," Olazabal said. "We have lost a precious man and someone who still had good years ahead of him."

France's Jean Van de Velde agreed.

"I'm devastated, totally devastated. It certainly puts into perspective little things like missed putts," Van de Velde said. "My thoughts go to his family because he was such a family man. He was a wonderful sportsman and wonderful person."

Outside the golf world, there was also reaction. Stewart was a big Orlando Magic fan, and former Magic guard Penny Hardaway knew him well.

"I know the guys in Florida are devastated right now," Hardaway said from Phoenix. "I knew his family. I've been to his home. He's given me golf clubs. He's one of those guys you either love or hate, and I loved him because you always knew where he stood."

Stewart's most indelible public image may be of his hands in the air in the early evening at Pinehurst earlier this year, when he made a 15-foot putt on the 18th green to win the U.S. Open.

It won't be what Crenshaw remembers most, though.

"I will always remember that smile and that laugh and that beautiful, graceful swing," he said. "It's hard to believe we're not going to watch that effortless swing anymore."