AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was 20 years ago today that Scotland’s Sandy Lyle played the most famous fairway bunker shot in Masters history. He struck a 7-iron 150 yards uphill on the 18th hole to set up a birdie, becoming the first British player to claim the green jacket. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a better shot in a major,” Lyle said earlier this week, looking forward to his 27th appearance.
Lyle is now 50 and playing his first season on the Champions Tour. So what on earth was he doing here shooting level par in the first round to match the current World No.1? And seeing his name (for a while) high up on the leaderboard? While Tiger Woods probably spent the eve of the tournament tucked in bed meditating about the Grand Slam, Lyle had a less serious pre-Masters mindset — he was out partying with friends at the local Hooters.
His relaxed approach to the 72nd Masters is working. Lyle reached 3-under par by the par-5 15th. But then, deciding which club to hit into the green, he admitted that he began contemplating leading the tournament, with 4-under par (or better?) within reach. “I chose a rescue club over a 3-iron and hit it too well,” Lyle said, “and it flew over the green. Then I nearly went in the water with the chip shot coming back, and I made a six. It all went it bit haywire after that. But there were some signs of the old days out there. I feel I have turned the corner in the past few weeks. I’m slightly disappointed but I’ll take it. Energy-wise, I feel pretty good. And those birdies certainly keep you going!”
First round tournament co-leader Justin Rose was only seven years old when Lyle won, but Rose said seeing the veteran’s name on the leaderboard brought memories flooding back. “I remember watching that bunker shot on TV and Sandy’s tartan pants and that jig he did on the green,” Rose said with a laugh.
Lyle’s one-shot victory over Mark Calcavecchia in 1988 added to his 1985 British Open success and solidified him as the World No. 1. He went on to claim 17 victories in Europe and five on the PGA Tour, including the 1987 Players Championship. Lyle remembered that, in 1988, by the time he had finished all the interviews and formalities with the Augusta National members, there was no time to celebrate.
“When I got back to my hotel,” he said, “I was expecting a raucous welcome. But everyone had buggered off to bed.”
Perhaps he’ll make up for that tonight. But Hooters? Two nights in a row?