HE IS not sure himself that he still has the legs for it. “Around here I still feel about 56 from here up,” said Sandy Lyle pointing to his waist. “But down there I’m about 80 at the moment.”
The 1988 winner, who finished joint-44th at this year’s Masters, was speaking just as 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez had teed off only four shots behind the joint leaders, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, heading into the final round of the 78th Masters.
He had just noticed when signing for his final-round score – a one-over-par 73 that included a crystal-winning eagle-3 at the 13th – that Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the same age as him, had started birdie-eagle.
A few groups behind, Fred Couples was also having another memorable Masters. The 54-year-old’s presence on the leaderboard here almost seems as certain a feature as those azaleas coming out in full bloom for the season’s opening major.
Can somebody in their 50s beat the young guns like Spieth one day to claim the Green Jacket? “It’s all very well getting up there,” observed Lyle, the winner in 1988. “But, when you find out, ‘well, it’s me, I’m the one that could maybe pull it off here’, that’s a different matter.
“For me, it doesn’t get any easier physically as well. My legs are sort of hanging in there. It gets to you physically. The mental side can also fade away, if you’re not careful.”
Lyle’s final round on this visit up Magnolia Lane was his 100th in the event. There was no special treatment, though, on the first tee. “Fore please, Sandy Lyle now driving,” was all he got from the starter – exactly the same as everyone else. He acknowledged the ripple of applause with a wave of his driver. Mainly thanks to his win here – and even more so probably for that iconic Masters moment as he hit a career-best 7-iron out of a bunker at the 18th – Lyle is still a recognised figure on this side of the Atlantic.
The fans nestled up on the right side of the 13th fairway let out an early roar yesterday as he holed a decent-sized putt for that eagle. It’s a tradition of the event that they are rewarded with crystal goblets.
“I just asked them if they’re still doing any crystal, because it’s been a long time since I got any,” said Lyle, smiling. Asked where he kept them, he added: “I use them!” It was a rare one for him at the 13th. “I’d say I’ve roughly had eight in the 100 rounds and most have been made on No 8.”
Lyle’s closing effort left him on nine-over – three more than compatriot Stephen Gallacher. “It was a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” he said. “It was another roller-coaster day but 73 is still tidy around here at the age of 56.”
Lyle is staying on in Georgia to play in this week’s Champions Tour event in Duluth. Colin Montgomerie, who was working here for Sky Sports, is also heading there; Jimenez, too, for his over-50s debut.
“It’s no gravy train, I can tell you,” he said of his bread and butter work these days. “I’ve been out there five years now and had not that many top 10s. I’ve been playing reasonable golf, but the other boys are playing better golf right now.”
While it was hardly an earth-shattering admission, Lyle said he doesn’t think he is going to be asked to be part of Paul McGinley’s backroom team for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
“I doubt it,” he said. “I’m out of touch a lot of times with European golf and what McGinley does on a weekly basis. He’s made no effort to say, ‘if you’re thinking you’re a possible, just don’t worry about it’. I don’t blame him as it’s up to him. But, if he wants some help, then I’ll be there.”
If not in an official capacity, the man who lives around 40 miles away from the PGA Centenary Course at Balquhidder will be content to be involved in another way as the Ryder Cup is staged in Scotland for the first time since 1973. “When you’re close by, as I am, I think I’ll still be in the corporate side of it,” he said. “Playing a few rounds of golf somewhere else and entertaining somebody and maybe passing on the life experiences of Ryder Cups. There’s always something and it would be a shame to let it slide past you.”
After nine holes in the final round, an old hand was leading the way from the young gun. Level at the start with Spieth, 2012 winner Bubba Watson was two shots behind the 20-year-old after seven holes.
He was two ahead, though, heading for the tenth tee after he recorded back-to-back birdies against the brace of bogeys that went down on Spieth’s card as his bid to become the event’s youngest winner suffered a dent.