Golf: Swinging times for Lyle

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The Independent Online
Too often Sandy Lyle is further than a Tiger Woods drive from the top of the leaderboard, so his position after two rounds of the US Players Championship was welcoming indeed. Lyle may have edged out from being within a flicked wedge of Steve Elkington's nine-under lead to something more in the middle-iron range, but this was only the third time in 12 attempts he has even made the cut at the TPC of Sawgrass.

The recent history of a once great career has been for Lyle to follow one good round with a poor one - if he had not given himself too much to do by getting the bad one in first. His opening 68 on Thursday was a fine effort, but it also took determination for him not to fritter it away on the wind of Friday afternoon.

Lyle started out with two bogeys and went to the turn in 39. Resuming at the first, he got a shot back, but at the fourth a light went on. He had driven into a bank, had 170 yards to the green, into the wind, a bad lie and had to aim 30 yards right of the flag and turn his hands over at impact. He took a 7-iron and put it to eight feet.

"It was a touch of the Masters," Lyle said, reflecting back on a past glory. "I even sneaked in the putt for a birdie. If that shot had not come off I was struggling to even make the cut." Typically, he reflected, he bogeyed the next two, but with a birdie at the last hole he managed to salvage a 74. "It wasn't pretty, but I kept cool and finished all right," he added.

It is 10 years since Lyle won the Players, nine and a half since he last played in the Ryder Cup and nine since he won the Masters. There were reports of the Scot working with the maverick coach Mac O'Grady, but at the present he is just relying on the practice range and the eyes of his caddie, Max Cunningham.

Cunningham worked for Lyle before taking over Michael Campbell's bag. At the end of the Kiwi's disastrous 1996, Cunningham jumped before he got pushed and hooked up with the Australian Stuart Appleby but joined up with Lyle again the days before Appleby won the Honda Classic two weeks ago.

They have been working on Lyle's backswing after the former Open champion saw Woods' swing analysed on the Golf Channel. Woods, in the biggest test he has faced so far as a professional, was two shots behind Lyle on level par after 36 holes.

As usual, Woods was top of the driving distance statistics (average 292.8 yards) but with water, heavy rough and wind, the Stadium Course is no push over for length alone. Interestingly, while Lyle had hit only 19 fairways to Woods' 20, Lyle had hit 27 greens in regulation, five more than Woods.

Ian Woosnam did not feel that the muscle spasm in his back which forced him to retire during the second round would hinder him any further. But with the US Masters just over a week away, Nick Faldo was less optimistic about his putting. The Englishman has had his caddie, Fanny Sunneson, lining up his putts and has set out to rediscover some confidence on the greens over the weekend.

"The putting is killing me," Faldo said. He started out yesterday three shots behind Colin Montgomerie, the leading Briton on four under. Montgomerie was runner-up here last year and it was not until the Saturday that his challenge began in full with a six-under 66.

Such is the pulling-power of Tigermania that John Daly almost managed to slip away quietly having withdrawn after a first round 76. Daly was not so quiet, however, at a local beachfront on Thursday night when he joined the band in a rendition of a Led Zeppelin number. Daly, a self- confessed alcoholic, admitted drinking again "socially" last summer and the local paper could not help wondering whether "Daly, after a night out at Sloppy Joe's, is once again becoming Sloppy John?"

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