Twelve months ago, on the 30th anniversary of his victory at Augusta National, Lyle missed the cut by a single shot. He’s now heading into 38th appearance in the event feeling upbeat about his game, having shot a 63 in finishing joint-sixth in the Chubb Classic on the Champions Tour in February.
The 61-year-old would be happier if the course was firmer as it adds to the physical challenge when it’s as soft as it is this week. But the sole Scot in the field is ready to get his teeth into the test.
“I assess it year by year – very much so,” he told The Scotsman in reply to being asked about his future in this event. “I think being here this year is a little bit more special due to the fact I don’t have the Open to look forward to anymore.
“It was the end of an era for me at Carnoustie last year. I’ve had a good innings in the Open, though it has kicked my butt a bit over the last 20-odd years.
“I still enjoy playing against the big boys and, in some cases, it is a chance to meet them for the first time. I see them on the TV, but it’s not the same as watching them in the flesh.”
Lyle, who completed his preparation by playing the front nine with his long-time friend and fellow former winner, Ian Woosnam, has definitely been heartened by his performances on the Champions Tour this season. “About 18 months ago, I started working on trying to draw the ball a bit more and that has helped my balance,” he added. “If you start hitting the ball a bit better, things start to happen and I’m happy with my putting within reason. It is pretty stable right now.
“Out here this week, we are going to be wearing out the 3 and 4-irons as the ball is not releasing much at all due to the rain earlier in the week. It will be a tough old slog. When it is dry and running, it’s a little lighter on the feet. But, in soft conditions, it is heavy on the old bones and you will feel it after 18 holes, that’s for sure.
“The goal is to make the cut. I missed it by one last year. I had a couple of bad holes about the sixth and seventh. I had a bogey then a double-bogey – boom, boom! That left it difficult for me to get some momentum going again but, in the end, I was only one short.”
This is the second year running that Lyle is flying the Saltire on his own. “It would be nice if I had some company and give the people back in Scotland something to celebrate. But, as I’ve often said, it is about waves in this game,” he said.
“We might not have anyone else for a few years then all of a sudden have 10 playing one year. Golf is a silly game like that. I am sure that the players watching back home this week will be trying to find another gear in a bid to be here in the future.”