IN AN event bringing the best out of the ‘Golden Oldies’, Sandy Lyle joined in the fun. In a fitting celebration of him becoming the first British player to be crowned Masters champion 25 long years ago, the two-time major winner will be here for the weekend.
So, too, will Paul Lawrie after he staged a brave second-day fightback in more testing conditions than the first round, but Martin Laird, the third member was facing an anxious wait on the projected cut mark of five over. Lyle, who’d missed the cut for the last three years but is going the distance again at the age of 55, used two birdies in the first three holes to craft a level-par 72 for one-over, a shot better than Lawrie after his fellow major winner shot a 70 that included a dropped shot at the last.
“Any time you make the cut at Augusta you have to be very happy, especially after I was two-over after four but I just hung in there and, for a change, I made a good start,” said Lyle. “I came out here to be around at the weekend and now I might even get in there amongst the leaders.”
All over the shop from the tee in the first round, Lawrie still wasn’t finding the centre of many fairways. For the first time this year, though, the putts were dropping. He also chipped in at the opening hole, providing him with exactly the start he’d been looking for after an opening 76.
“I hit it in the right bunker and I was up against the lip,” he said, fearing that it was going to be Groundhog Day. “But I managed to chunk it out and then I chipped in - it was in the middle all the way.”
Further birdies followed on the front nine at the fourth, where he hit a majestic 3-iron to three inches, and the long-eighth from four feet. Coming back, he did his good work at the two par-5s, making a 4 from out of the pine needles at the 13th then hitting a wedge stiff from around 80 yards at the 15th.
“I drove it a little bit better today, but it still was pretty poor at times,” he said. At the 18th, for instance, he found the trees on the right once again and bogeyed that. “I thought I got it back on the range yesterday, but I was still hitting so many shots high and right.
“Today overall was a much better performance, though. I played lovely in spells, in fact, whereas I had to be gutsy to stuck in there yesterday, when four-over was a good score, to be fair. It could have easily been much more than that.”
He’s had less than 30 putts in both rounds – 29 on Thursday and 28 yesterday. “Every chance I had, I pretty much knocked in,” he said of the latter. “I’ve been struggling with my neck for weeks, but I’ve done a lot of putting to try to get it more on the chalk line at home. So hopefully that will pay off over the weekend.”
After wearing white trousers for the first time on Thursday, the Aberdonian was sporting a blue tartan pair given to him by Ian Poulter yesterday. Having safely made the cut, he just wishes he’d also packed a “red Aberdeen pair” for the weekend.
After also opening with a 76, newly-crowned Texas Open champion Laird produced an improved second-day performance as well. Unfortunately for him, though, a 73 for 149 looked as though it was going to be outside that cut mark. “I’m disappointed, but I’m definitely not going to let this week put any damper on last week,” he reflected. “I was in a bad mood last night after yesterday, but then I said to my wife, ‘wait a minute, I won last week’. That’s not a reason to be in a bad mood.”
He’s ready for a rest after capping a hectic schedule by digging deep to win in San Antonio last weekend to book his spot here at the 11th hour. Once the batteries have been re-charged, he’ll be aiming to be in the field for the next two majors as well.
“Right now I’m not in them, so I’m going to play in the international qualifier for the Open and also the one for the US Open,” said Laird, whose next event will be the Wells Fargo Championship at the start of May, the week before the Players’ Championship at Sawgrass, where he finished second last year.
Good finishes in either of them could see him climb back into the world’s top 50, meaning he’d not need to play in either of those qualifiers. “Hopefully I can get into them automatically,” he said.
In the meantime, the 30-year-old Glaswegian is aiming to savour last weekend’s success – his third on the PGA Tour. “I’ve not had a chance to do that yet, so I can do that next week and celebrate with some friends,” he added.
“I’m not sure about my full schedule for the rest of the year, but I’m definitely going to play the Aberdeen Asseet Scottish Open – that one is always on the schedule. I’ll be back for that regardless if I qualify for the Open or not.”