In 1988, Lyle won the Masters. He also won at Phoenix and Greensboro on the PGA Tour, and on the European Tour he won the British Masters and completed the year by winning the World Match-Play Championship.
Norman and Ballesteros certainly had good years. Norman won the Heritage Classic in America, four tournaments in Australia, and the Italian Open in Europe. Ballesteros won the Westchester Classic in the U.S., the British Open, and the Mallorca Open, the Scandinavian Open and the German Open. Both men were impressive, but their years were not like Lyles year.
Who would win a hypothetical tournament where all the great players of 88 were entered? It is obvious, said Ballesteros. Sandy would win, and I would come in second.
Then the golfing world of Sandy Lyle collapsed. In 1989, he lost it. The hardest thing to do is go out and not play with the swing you were born with, Lyle said. It was like being caught up in a landslide. It got so bad that at the end of the year, in an unprecedented move, Lyle graciously gave up his position on the European Ryder Cup team.
In 1992, an exasperated Lyle finally went to English instructor Dennis Pugh, after he had made the rounds of all the other notable instructors ' David Leadbetter, Jimmy Ballard, Simon Holmes, Bob Torrance. Coincidence or not, in three weeks he had won again ' at the season-ending 92 Volvo Masters. It might have been pure coincidence because Lyle would never win again. But for one glorious week, Lyle had the satisfaction of knowing what winning a major tournament felt like.
Lyle was about to hook up in a memorable battle with 29-year-old Colin Montgomerie, who was to go on to win seven straight money championships on the European Tour beginning in 1993. Only 54 men, the elite of the European Tour, were eligible to start. They were competing on a difficult course, Valderrama, on Spains Costa del Sol, in typical European weather.
Lyle had led the tournament after 54 holes, but he lost the lead on the 14th hole via a three-putt bogey. But he turned right around on the 15th, a long par-3, when he covered the 225 yards with a 3-iron to 16 feet. He then sank the putt for birdie to tie Montgomerie.
At the par-5 17th, Lyle appeared to be hopelessly out of the hole when he badly shanked a 9-iron approach. But the ball careened into a tree that was out of bounds and bounced back into light rough. Lyle got it up-and-down for par, parred the 18th, and it was off to the playoff.
Montgomerie, as it developed, wouldnt be so lucky in the trees. On the first playoff hole, Lyle nailed a perfect drive. Montgomerie, tying to fade the ball in a left-to-right wind, hit a tree 60 yards out and the ball dropped straight down.
Montgomeries second was a 3-iron which missed the fairway, then he poled a 3-wood which came up just off the green. Lyle had played the hole perfectly, putting his second shot on the green in two.
Montgomerie, lying three, had to chip for par. He very nearly made it, but it stayed out for a five. Lyle was able to two-putt for his par and the victory.
Lyle is 45 now, and where his talent has gone is the most mysterious story in golf. Only recently did he show some signs of life. At mid-season he made four out of five cuts in Europe, finishing in a tie for sixth at the English Open. But he has missed the cut in his last three tournaments, provoking new fears that his golfing career is again on the decline.
However, there is still the wonderous year of 1992, and one wonderful tournament ' the 92 Volvo Masters. Lyle will always remember.