MOST people have been getting hugs from him this week. Maybe Sandy Lyle did, too. At Tuesday night’s Champions’ Dinner, though, the “new” Tiger Woods was more interested in talking to the Scot after hearing he had played Augusta National last Saturday with a set of hickory clubs.
It should be pointed out straight away that Lyle is a dab hand with old sticks in his hands. Last year, at Panmure, he was crowned as the World Hickory Open champion, a title he is proud to hold. He was “disappointed” not to break 80 with them on this occasion, but is keeping the putter in his bag for the main event.
“Tiger said to me, ‘I hear you played on Saturday with hickory clubs’ and I said ‘how did you know?’ He asked me where I got them, I said it was from Tad Moore,” revealed the 1988 Masters champion. “He didn’t know that name, but he sounded quite interested. At the end of the evening he came over and said ‘what was that name again?’
“I played round here on Saturday with them. It was windy and I’d just driven up for five hours. I wasn’t quite on full swing. My challenge was to break 80, but I didn’t. It was off the back tees, mind you. I parred the first and the 18th.
“I think the young guys might struggle to break 76 round here with hickories. But I had Dustin Johnson hit my hickory driver and he still hit it 280 like a bullet. There’s no substitute for that power and flexibility.”
Two years ago, Lyle came here with a Black Swan putter, a modern-day weapon that looked like a satellite dish. Encouraged by his wife, Jolande, he will head out today with something that will provide a flashback to the early days of the Royal & Ancient game. “I’ve been putting quite well with my Tad Moore putter and the wife said ‘well, why don’t you use it at Augusta?’ I said ‘I can’t do that’ but my putting hasn’t been good so maybe it will bring me a change of luck.” Can we expect to see him wearing plus fours as well one day soon? “No,” he replied. “I like hickory golf, but I’m not that serious.”
Dustin Johnson hit my hickory driver and he still hit it 280 like a bulletSandy Lyle
Making his 34th appearance this week, Lyle is still deadly serious about trying to get into contention every time he comes back here. He has made the cut the last two years and is pleased his game is in “reasonable shape” again after struggling so far this season on the Champions Tour.
“The Masters still gets the old ticker going,” said the 57-year-old. “The course is in good condition. There’s been plenty of growth and it’s a little softer as well after all the rain, which means the big bombers may have that edge.”
Before getting his second Masters underway today, Stephen Gallacher will join the throng around the first tee to watch the three honorary starters – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – get the event’s 79th staging underway.
“I’ve got a reasonably early start time tomorrow, so I’ll be there at the first tee to see Jack, Arnie and Gary teeing off,” said the Lothians man. “They are legends of the game and I wouldn’t miss that, especially as I had a late opening-round time last year so couldn’t really be there on that occasion. It’s part of the mystique and heritage of this event and I remember Sam Snead and Ben Hogan hitting the ceremonial shots in their mid-80s.”
Gallacher finished a respectable joint 34th on his debut 12 months ago, when only a third-round 81 took the gloss off his week’s work.
“The first time you come here you are hit by the ‘wow factor’,” he reflected. “Second time around you know what to expect. I played half decent last year and now it’s a case of trying to build on that by finishing higher.
“I struggled a wee bit off the tee in my other practice rounds but played lovely today. It can be difficult to maintain your concentration when you come out early, as I did, so I just want to get started now.
“Maybe getting closer to the tournament I was more concentrated today.”
His coach, Alan McCloskey, is upbeat about that possibility. “Stephen had a very good practice session on the range this morning and he’s hitting the ball and putting very well, so we’re both very happy,” said the Bothwell Castle PGA professional. “There’s a big benefit for Stephen this year as it is his second Masters, The more you come here the more you learn and the more you appreciate the subtleties of the course.”
Interestingly, McCloskey’s last piece of advice before his man heads for the first tee in the company of Swede Jonas Blixt and American Kevin Streelman will not be anything technical. “The best thing I can say to Stevie is to go out there on that first tee with a big smile on your face as these are the best days of his golfing life,” he said.
“I was going to win the Masters ten times and more often than Gary Player and I was nearly 100 years of age before I got here for the first time.”
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