They say that when you're in a hole it is time to stop digging. Sandy Lyle, however, was in full shovel mood here yesterday when he tried to apologise for the astonishing attack he had made against Colin Montgomerie in yesterday's The Independent. In the process Lyle actually managed to exacerbate the situation.
Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain, certainly wasn't impressed after reading the transcript of the press conference that his countryman had felt obliged to make in the wake of bringing up the "cheating" controversy of four years before. "A strange kind of apology," said Montgomerie. Indeed, it had been.
In a statement which he read out, Lyle said "he deeply regretted jeopardising Colin's preparation for the Open Championship" and expressed his wish "that nothing more will be made of this issue". There was little to no chance of that, however, because as soon as the Q&A session started Lyle proceeded to reiterate a number of claims he had made in the interview.
At no time did the 51-year-old withdraw his comment that what Montgomerie did in Indonesia in 2005 – when he dropped his ball in a blatantly advantageous position – was "a form of what you would call cheating". "It's all been well-documented," said Lyle yesterday. "It's all on video. It's not like I'm pre-fabricating [sic]. The drop wasn't close to where it should be. And TV doesn't lie... It will probably live with him for the rest of his life."
Montgomerie's reaction to that was far from surprising. "I've nothing much to say," he said. "I'm just trying to come here and compete in the Open and my preparations have been slightly dented. No I'm not very happy about that at all."
Montgomerie donated his prize money to charity after his "wrong drop" came to light and the European Tour players' committee expressed their dissatisfaction with his actions at the time. The eight-time Order Of Merit winner had hoped back then that a line would be drawn under what became known as "Jakartagate". He certainly could never have thought it would cause such a storm again now. This episode has clearly embarrassed him hugely. Montgomerie was due to be at the annual dinner of the Association of Golf Writers last night but informed organisers during the day he would not be attending.
Inevitably the article was the talk of the locker rooms where the general consensus was that while what Lyle had said was largely true, he had been at fault for expressing it publicly. The 1985 champion admitted he was bitter about not being selected as the Ryder Cup captain, himself, and the insinuation that his actions at last year's Open – when he walked off Birkdale after just nine holes – played a role in the selection committee's decision. It was this combination which apparently triggered Lyle's tirade against a man he yesterday, somewhat optimistically, described as "still a friend".
Not everyone felt Lyle had been in the wrong, however. Gary Evans, the former English pro who finished one shot off the Open play-off in 2002, was vocal about Montgomerie's misdemeanor at the time and is clearly still incensed about the affair. "It's good that this has come out at a time when the European Tour seems to be trying to send out a warning about cheating," said Evans. "It could have been done more effectively years ago when they had a high impact player like Monty involved in a massive controversy. But instead it was brushed under the carpet.
"There is a feeling among players that some high-profile performers appear to get away with murder, while lesser players get picked on. Everyone I know feels that. Mud sticks, as Monty's case shows. That's why this has resurfaced. The only way to avoid it is to be whiter than white. As I said at the time, there was a feeling Monty's punishment didn't fit the crime."
Montgomerie must feel like he is paying now. In the Turnberry clubhouse yesterday afternoon he passed within a few feet of Lyle, who told the assembled reporters of his desire to talk to him. Montgomerie gave Lyle the most cursory of nods but carried straight on, head down. At the same time a mobile phone went off. The tune was from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".