The former Open and US Masters champion Sandy Lyle has two weeks left to safeguard his European Tour future, starting with the Dutch Open, which begins here today.
Lyle has held a Tour card since winning the qualifying school in 1977, claiming the Order of Merit three times. But the 45-year-old is in danger of losing his playing rights for next season after dropping out of the top 40 of the Tour's career money list last week. The Scot was 38th 10 days ago, but has been pushed down to 41st by Adam Scott, Ignacio Garrido and David Howell.
Lyle's chances are not helped by the small prize fund here, with the £116,000 for winning being more than £500,000 less than for last week's American Express championship in Atlanta. Lyle feels the massive increase in prize-money in recent years is to blame.
"The system now is slightly outdated," said Lyle, who has missed the cut in four of his last five events. "It needs to be more of a points system."
Lyle's view is borne out by the fact that finishing third in the Dunhill links championship last year earned him more than any of his tournament wins, including his two major titles. He is just £10,000 behind Howell on the career money list, but with the Englishman in top form with four top 10s in his last five events, Lyle knows he must perform in this week's Dutch Open and the final counting event, the Madrid Open, in a fortnight's time.
"I knew the last couple of tournaments would be quite vital, but that's just the way it goes," Lyle said. Howell, who finished a creditable 28th on only his second competitive appearance in America, is one of five players to have made the journey from the United States. The Londoner Brian Davis is the highest ranked player in the world, at 73, competing in the event.