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Sandy Lyle ready for 43rd and final (probably) Open

Sandy Lyle.
Sandy Lyle.

The likes of Bobby Locke, Fred Daly and Peter Alliss were competing when a young Sandy Lyle started out on his Open journey.

There were two cuts in that tournament, the winner took home £5,500 and the rest had to share less than £45,000 between them.

Forty-three championships later, Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1974 is likely to be book-ended by Carnoustie in 2018.

Likely, but not certainly, as the 60-year-old is still hoping that there is one last Open hurrah left in him which would lead to a 44th.

Eight missed cuts and a withdrawal in the last decade wouldn’t suggest that the 1985 champion is a smart pick to still be playing on Saturday and Sunday, let alone threaten the top 10 that would get him to Portrush. But Lyle hasn’t dismissed the idea.

“As you get into veteran side of it at 60, it would be great to perform well,” he said.

“Tom Watson is in the back of my mind and what he achieved at Turnberry in 2009. That was absolutely amazing.

“It gave me a lot of grief from my dear wife as she was saying, ‘see what age he is, almost 60!

“If I do well and make the cut it’s going to be quite an emotional last hole.

“I was quite emotional when I was watching Nicklaus play the last hole at St Andrews. It just gets to you. You might think ‘I’m hardened’ but if you’ve got any bit of sense in there, it’ll happen, I’m sure. I’ll just take it whenever it happens.

“It doesn’t have to be goodbye.”

Lyle was happy to accept the honour of striking the first tee shot of the 147th Open, even it means an early night and an even earlier rise.

“I got asked a wee while ago by Martin Slumbers if I was interested in hitting the opening shot,” he said. “He pulled me to the side when I was playing a round of golf.

“He kind of pointed his finger at me and said, ‘I want to have a word with you’. I thought, ‘oh dear, what have I done?’ but it was to ask if I’d like to have the opening tee shot this week.

“I very quickly said ‘that would be a lovely idea, thank you very much’. I then said, ‘that isn’t that 6.30am tee-off time, is it?’ and he just sort of smiled and said, ‘yes’.

“I’ve never hit the opening shot before, but I’ve had a few tee times around 6.45am over the years. Last year I think I was third off at Birkdale and it wasn’t the best of weather that morning either with a strong cross wind in just 40 or 50 degrees.

“I don’t mind an early tee time for links courses anyway. I think you get the best of the greens and a lot of the time the wind isn’t too strong at that time of the day.

“It’s a nice new tradition and I think the R&A might make more of it as times goes on. I’m one of the earliest to be handed that honour and it’s nice. I’ll see what I can do.”

With Lyle expecting to pull a mid-iron out of his bag at the first, there will be a bit of golfing symmetry.

He said: “It was at Royal Lytham with the same club – a four or five iron – off the par three there.

“I felt a complete nervous wreck back then. I had played well to qualify a few days before so I was excited. But as an amateur, as I was back then, you don’t have too high expectations.

“It was about enjoying it as best as you can and shooting as low as you can. I made the first cut – there were two in those days. Unfortunately, I then got stuck in a bunker about the fifth hole and got out of it about five minutes later looking rather red-faced and as though I had the whole world on my shoulders.

“It was doomsday all of a sudden because it was heading for a nine or a 10 on that par five hole. It was a bitter-sweet finish as it blew my chances of winning the Silver Medal.

“But the experience from that event is still lodged in my memory. I played with Fuzzy Zoeller on the third day. He’s whistling away on the first tee, drops the club down and slides it and lines it up virtually over the hozzle.

“I thought he was goofing around but the next thing the ball is away. These are the sort of things that stick in your mind.

“I played a practice round with Gary Player as well. I kind of cheekily put my name down on the starting board thinking he’s probably not going to turn up but he did. He was very graceful and chatted away, asking me where I was from.”

Plenty would say that one Open and two majors was less than a player of Lyle’s stature deserved from his career. He, though, is happy that he converted when the opportunity presented itself.

“I think the two majors I won were the closest I was going to get,” said Lyle. “The rest of it was all a bit disappointing really and in US Opens and PGAs I was never really in the hunt. The two I was in the hunt, I won. So I’m not complaining.

“I’ve had no disappointments where I’ve had a lead and lost it with two holes to go, whereas Mickelson with the US Open has had about four or five seconds. I’ve been fortunate in that way, but maybe unfortunate not to create some better chances.

“There have been some joys in the Open and then there have been miserable times. I’ve had to retire after nine holes because of injury and things like that.

“Everybody’s had highs and lows. You try to get your game in as good a shape as you can and do well in the Open but it doesn’t always pan out that way. I’ve always said, golf doesn’t come with a guarantee.”

Bernhard Langer.

If it isn’t to be Lyle leading the charge of the golden oldies, the man who finished two shots behind him in ’85 at St George’s, Bernhard Langer, is his tip to give the youngsters a run for their money.

“He’s shooting 68s week in, week out,” Lyle said. “If you’re a betting man for top 10 or whatever he’d be quite good money I would think right now. I think he could contend, very much so.

“It’s similar to Muirfield in 2013 when Mickelson won. I’d never seen the course like that. That year only three or four people finished under par, I think.

“The course showed its teeth and I think it will be the same here.

“I heard that Rory McIlroy is planning to hit driver a lot. That could pan out well or it could be a disaster.

“Langer is precise and gets the ball on to the fairway. He’s not an aggressive type of player but he’ll put numbers on the board.

“Straight is good out here. Use the head and stay out of the bunkers. It’s a thinker’s golf course. That’s what wears you out. There is a lot to think about off almost every tee. Go in a fairway bunker and it’s a chip out.”

If it is to be 43 and out, that’s still an impressive total.

“It would have been more if they hadn’t put the age limit down,” Lyle joked. “I could have caught up Gary Player!”