The opportunity was set up by a gutsy one-over 73 from the 61-year-old Scot, who had spoken confidently about his game before handing himself a nice boost in the Par 3 event here on Wednesday.
Helped by making four birdies in a row from the second, he posted a five-under total which equalled his lowest score in the Par 3 event. It looked set to earn him a third win until Matt Wallace, who had a hole-in-one at the eighth, matched that effort, then won in a play-off.
Making his 38th appearance in the main event, Lyle was out straight behind groups featuring both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
As huge crowds followed the present day superstars, an early birdie from Lyle at the par-4 second would barely have been noticed. He’d talked about how the fifth hole being extended by 40 yards this year presented him with a tough challenge and, right enough, that early gain was given back there.
However, a brilliant tee shot to nine feet set up a birdie at the short sixth and the putter continued to serve him well as pars were saved at both the ninth and tenth from five feet and seven feet respectively.
A drive into trees at the difficult 11th led to a second bogey of the day and Lyle looked as though he was starting to wilt when shots also went at the 14th and 16th.
Nevertheless, a second 2 of the day – his tee shot came to rest just two feet from the hole at the 16th – was just what the doctor ordered and he duly finished with two solid pars. That excellent effort left him alongside title favourite McIlroy and defending champion Patrick Reed.
“I’m the only Scot playing this week, so it’s disappointing that we haven’t got more,” said Lyle afterwards. “But you have to earn it to get in here, it’s not an easy challenge to get in.
“It could go in waves, in five years time there could be eight or nine playing. We just never know what’s around the corner, but I’m going to have to carry the flag this week.”
Lyle’s fellow 61-year-old Bernhard Langer opened with a 71 but Ian Woosnam had an 80 that included a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 11th. The 61-year-old Welshman last made the cut in 2008 and a 31st appearance here is likely to be his last.
“I’m just in too much pain,” the Welshman told GolfWorld. “And it happens every time I get here. It must be the hills because I’ve been playing and hitting a lot of balls recently with no ill-effects. But as soon as I get on this course my back bothers me.
“I know I’ve said this before. But this time it feels like the end. I want to enjoy playing, but I just can’t. It’s too bad, really. But I have to say goodbye sometime.
“If nothing changes physically, I’m done. I just can’t go on like this.”
Bidding to become the first player to win back-to-back since Tiger Woods in 2002, Reed had a topsy-turvy day, signing for an eagle and two birdies but also five bogeys.
“I felt like the ball‑striking was a little loose,” he said afterwards.
“Even if you hit quality golf shots here, if you miss it by a foot one way or the other, you’re leaving yourself a very hard next shot.
“And I had a couple of shots like that, and hit a couple of shots that the wind changed or had a poor swing. I just need to tighten it up a little on the full swing and I’ll be alright.”
Sergio Garcia, the 2017 winner, also opened with a 73 while Danny Willett, the champion before him, had to settle for a 75. It was also a disappointing start for Irishman Shane Lowry as he slumped to a 78.
“You come here and shoot 78 in the first round and you wonder, ‘what’s the point of being here?’” said Lowry. “I think I put too much pressure on myself to get here and then I put too much pressure on myself when I get here to try and do well. It is all internal in my own head, so I just need to relax and let the golf take care of itself.”