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Sandy Lyle Sets Another Benchmark at The Masters

By: | Wed 07 Apr 2021 | Comments

In a career that has been spent setting benchmarks in the game, Sandy Lyle will once again make history at the Masters on Thursday, when he tees off for the 40th time, becoming the first European golfer to reach that milestone number of appearances.

However, the records don't stop there for the champion of 1988, who (as noted by stats guru Justin Ray) will also overtake Gary Player's tally of 36 consecutive appearances, a new standard for a non-American player and one that potentially won't be surpassed, when considering that the likes of Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal have missed the occasional tournament, breaking their streak.

The legendary South African remarkably played in the Masters on 52 occasions between 1957 and 2009, but injury prevented him from competing in 1973. Arnold Palmer's 50 straight appearances will forever be etched.

"You know, the Open Championship, I managed to play 43 years in that," Lyle reflected. "Where the time has gone, I am not sure myself. And then the Masters is creeping up really quick, and I have no age restrictions. It's up to myself if I feel that my health is good, and another three or four more years, and that will be definitely plenty enough for me.

"It's never been disappointing playing here. It never has. Even though the course has sort of kicked my butt in the last sort of four or five years, I've missed the cut by one shot a few times and it's a bit aggravating, but that's the part of the course, we know it's going to be tough the first two days, and I've got to try and save as much energy and as many shots as I can out there."

Now 63, the Shropshire lad who embraced the national heritage of his Scottish parents, first made that iconic drive down Magnolia Lane in 1980 as the European Tour's reigning Order of Merit winner. That week, it was Seve Ballesteros who enjoyed his unforgettable breakthrough in Georgia, securing the first of two titles.

Famously, the charismatic Spaniard once said of Lyle: "The greatest God-given talent in history. If everyone in the world was playing their best, Sandy would win and I’d come second."

Ending a lengthy drought for home stars, Lyle won the Open at Royal St George's in 1985, but it's his triumphant moment three years later at Augusta National that remains most indelible, his closing birdie (and THAT bunker shot) among the greatest finishes in major championship golf.

Britain finally had a Masters champion.

Alongside his victory, perhaps the most significant chapter of Lyle's relationship with Augusta came on the final day in 1986, when he partnered the great Jack Nicklaus and had the best seat in the house to witness the American's dramatic charge to win for a sixth time.

Speaking to The Ringer, Lyle said: "The crowds were extremely noisy—noisy from enjoyment, because they were enjoying seeing Jack. The Golden Bear charge. A thrill and a migraine."

The Shrewsbury Scot generated excitement of his own two years later, a success that granted him a lifetime exemption into the event, an opportunity that he has taken with gratitude ever since.

Hopeful of making the cut for the first time since 2014, Lyle has spent the last six months in the United States at his Ponte Vedra base - within reach of TPC Sawgrass, where he won The Players Championship in 1987 - with travel restrictions and lockdowns discouraging a return home to Scotland.

"When you've got a lot of family on the other side of the pond and dogs and different things and a big house to look after and you're not there, it was a bit nerve-racking. But no, we had Christmas just the two of us, the wife and I, which was a lot different than normal, but thank God we've got the Skype and all that lot, and FaceTime, so we still see the kids and we still see all the dogs running around. The dogs will probably be chasing me when I get home in about another month's time.

"But besides that, it's been good fun, and I've had time to practice and get ready for this tournament. A lot of times I've usually had very little practice or very little golf anyway up to this tournament."

Preparing for the Masters is something that this World Golf Hall of Famer has done for decades, and there may yet be a few more appearances to come. His place in history is secure. Sandy Lyle - 40 and not out at Augusta National.

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