Golf: Lyle masters green monsters

US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Daly's challenge goes adrift out in the long grass as O'Meara and Gallagher set the early pace
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The Independent Online
The Riviera Golf and Country Club has played host to some famous names including Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Howard Hughes and O J Simpson. On one occasion Hughes, late for a tee time with Hepburn, landed his plane on a fairway but he would not have made as much an impression on the ground as the players in the first round of the 77th US PGA Championship here yesterday.

After 70 years of wear and tear, the greens have been completely rebuilt. The idea was to return them to their original size and shape and Ben Crenshaw, a good putter and therefore reckoned to be an expert on anything to do with greens, was called in to supervise the work. Before the championship started he said he was disappointed with the result of the reconstruction. He said the greens were slow and soft and he feared the course would be susceptible to low scoring.

Low scoring and high spike marks. It is obvious that the re-seeding operation has not been successful and the players who went out early yesterday had a distinct advantage. Bill Ferguson, the coach of Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, took one look at the damage being caused by players' spikes and remarked: "The greens are a minefield."

A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but the footsteps were as clear as if they had been set in fresh cement. Mark O'Meara and Jim Gallagher Jnr both shot 64 and were two ahead of Dr Gil Morgan, Greg Norman, Chip Beck, Jeff Maggert, Lee Janzen and Ernie Els. Following in their footsteps was Sandy Lyle, while Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo were also under par.

Lyle, who has not featured in a major championship since winning the Masters at Augusta in 1988, has shown signs of a renaissance this season and he made an encouraging start here with a birdie at the first hole. He picked up another stroke at the fourth hole landing his, two-iron tee shot within 12 feet of the flag. He made the putt for a two.

Lyle's record in the US PGA has been nothing to write home about. Joint 16th at Crooked Stick in Indiana in 1991 - the one that John Daly won - was easily his best performance. His lowest round had been 68, his highest 78 and yesterday he went round in 67.

The demise of Lyle was traced back to the Riviera in 1989 when he led the Los Angeles Open by three strokes in the final round but lost it to Mark Calcavecchia. "It all happened here," Lyle said. "It was traumatic. I went to Florida two weeks later and my game had gone. It's crazy. You never know what's going to happen.''

It has taken a long time for him to reappear on the leaderboard. Lyle has not played in the Ryder Cup since 1987 but he would like to play in Rochester, New York, next month. "I think I'd probably have to win here to get in," he said. He accepts that Bernard Gallacher is unlikely to pick him. "I'm doing my best to give him a headache," Lyle said. "At the moment he's got his hand on the aspirins.''

Daly, meanwhile, went from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a few holes. Sixteenth in the United States Ryder Cup points table, he needs a good show here to make the team.

The Open champion was one under par after five holes but had a double bogey five at the short sixth. That, however, was almost kind to him compared to the 12th. He hit his approach shot to the left of the fairway into grass that was as high as an elephant's eye. Despite a prolonged search Daly and his helpers could not find the ball and he ended up taking a triple bogey seven. He ended with 76, five over par and will have to show a dramatic improvement today to stay in the tournament.

What Daly needed at the 12th was the professional assistance of Morgan. He graduated at the Southern College of Optometry, although it is easier for him to make money on the golf course tha staring into people's eyes. Morgan's last victory was five years ago but the 48-year-old has amassed a few dollars short of $5m on the US Tour.

Morgan, who played in the Ryder Cup in 1979 and 1983, has been third in the US PGA on two previous occasions but the big one has always eluded him. The optometrist, who had the advantage of an early start yesterday, putted on virgin greens and hardly saw a spike mark.

Norman, twice a runner-up in this championship, went out in 31 and was showing no side effects from the back injury that affected him at the Open last month. Norman, the world No 1, had birdies at the first, second, third and seventh holes and he picked up another stroke at the 10th to get to five under. "The condition of the greens," Norman said, ''has taken some of the fun out of the course." O'Meara and Gallagher were not complaining.

Montgomerie had a 68 and Faldo a 69. "I had nine birdie chances," the Englishman said, "but I only took a couple of them." It sounds like a familiar refrain.

The most spectacular scoring came from the American John Adams, who opened with an eagle three and went to the turn in 29.

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