'A fitting end as Lyle bids farewell at Augusta'

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Sandy Lyle hits the ball out of the bunker on the 18th fairway at Augusta National on his way to winning the 1988 Masters"That could spin. It could spin. It could go. This could go…" - the commentary of Peter Alliss after Lyle's ball hit the green

As Sandy Lyle's golf ball careered towards a yawning bunker down the left side of Augusta National's 18th hole, there was a heart-sinking feeling for all British golf fans who were watching.

But soon after those hearts rose, inflated with pride at witnessing for the first time one of our own don the famous Masters Green Jacket.

To get to that point the easy-going Scot needed to play one of the greatest bunker shots ever witnessed and then coolly hole a capricious downhill putt for a tournament-winning birdie that denied American favourites Mark Calcavecchia and Ben Crenshaw.

Each time I have attended the Masters, I have walked past that bunker and recalled 1988 and that joyous seven-iron shot of genius, the way his ball skipped past the hole to the top of the ridge and then trundled so slowly and crucially back down the slope towards the hole.

And this year that stroll and the view up to the improbably steep slope of Augusta's closing hole will feel all the more poignant because this will be the 65-year-old's last hurrah at the scene of his greatest golfing moment.

Last week he announced he had played his last tournament on the Champions Tour, leaving the 87th Masters as the ideal venue to sign off on a glorious professional career.

The Shrewsbury-born Scot was regarded as one of the greatest ball strikers golf has ever seen. He possessed an extraordinary talent that yielded 30 professional wins, including the 1985 Open Championship at Royal St George's.

It was the first British success in the game's oldest major since Tony Jacklin's victory at Lytham 26 years earlier and it came after a heart-stopping moment when his first chip to the 72nd green came back to his feet.

That win was one glass ceiling shattered, another far stronger one was breached three years later with his astonishingly brave triumph at Augusta.

Lyle held the halfway lead after rounds of 71 and 67 and preserved a two-stroke advantage heading into the final round after a level-par 72 on the Saturday.

He built a three-stroke lead after 10 holes of the final round before a bogey at 11 and a double at the short 12th. How many Masters titles have disappeared on that stretch of holes?

Rory McIlroy in 2011 and Jordan Spieth in 2016 spring immediately to mind and Lyle seemed deflated by those setbacks.

Lyle was five under par, alongside clubhouse leader Craig Stadler. Calcavecchia and Crenshaw, roared on by their home crowd, were in pursuit. Lyle failed to make birdies on 13 and 14.

An exquisite chip on 15 almost brought a potentially tournament-clinching eagle, but that moment of brilliance was followed by a tentative, tepid birdie attempt that never threatened to drop.

Par was a miserable return from a hole that promised so much. But then came that grandstand finish, set up by a superb birdie at the par-three 16th, where he holed delicately from 15 feet.

Sharing the lead on the final tee he needed one last birdie for glory but it looked highly unlikely when he found what we always subsequently refer to as "Sandy's bunker".

At 145 yards out it was eight-iron distance, but he felt he needed one more club.

Crenshaw described what followed as "one of the most incredible shots that I've ever seen".

"He took a seven-iron and took a very aggressive swing, and the ball was contacted just perfectly," the American added.

Runner up Calcavecchia later said: "Every time I play the hole, I look over there and shake my head."

As for the winning putt, caddie Dave Musgrove thought it might borrow to the left but he and his boss also noted the grain which could push it to the right. The middle of the cup was the triumphant line and his ball disappeared.

It prompted a happy but exhausted jig from the champion. Lyle later said: "I had no legs left, nothing left in the tank at the end of that 72nd hole.

"The dance was just happiness, emotions. I really could have just melted into a blob right there on the green and been quite happy for the next few hours."

With that triumph, Lyle paved the way for Sir Nick Faldo (three times), Ian Woosnam and Danny Willett to become British winners of the Masters.

He is now drawing the curtains on one of the most significant careers in the history of British golf. It brought wins all over the world - 18 of them on the European Tour.

In five Ryder Cup appearances he played on the historic winning European teams in 1985 and 87 although, to the disappointment of many of his fans, he was never appointed captain of the continental team.

Nevertheless, Lyle helped inspire a golden era for European golf. This week at Augusta one of the greats of the game will be bidding farewell.

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