Lyle rediscovers his style

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The Independent Online
THERE is more at stake in the US PGA Championship than the mere purse of $2m (pounds 1.25m). For a handful of Americans and Europeans, there are places available for the Ryder Cup match in upstate New York next month and Sandy Lyle, for one, wants to be a contender.

Lyle last played in the Ryder Cup in 1987, the year before he won the Masters, but he has been in hibernation ever since. The rise and fall of the Anglo-Scot can be traced back to the Riviera Country Club here in 1989, when he relinquished a three-shot lead in the final round of the Los Angeles Open. Two weeks later, he played in Florida and woke up one morning like a man who had lost his wallet. "My game had gone," he said. "I've no idea why."

Nick Faldo is going through a similar experience just as Lyle is beginning to show signs that he can, at the age of 37, actually hit a fairway and hole a few putts. In the third round of the championship yesterday, Lyle reappeared on the leaderboard.

Once again conditions were sublime: turquoise blue sky above a turquoise Pacific, nothing but the hint of a breeze and greens with a Velcro-like consistency to hold all but the wildest of shots. The field established a record for the lowest halfway cut - level par 142 - in a PGA Championship and it was the second lowest in any major tournament. The lowest all-time cut in a major was at a becalmed St Andrews in 1990 when the guillotine fell at one under. The Old Course rectified that at last month's Open when the best aggregate was six under.

Yesterday Lyle went to the turn at six under, going out in 31. He began the day at two under and had birdies at the second, third, seventh and eighth holes. At that point Lyle was five strokes adrift of Ernie Els and Mark O'Meara but the joint leaders quickly put more daylight between themselves and the rest of the field. Lyle finished with a 69 to stand at four under.

Lyle is not the only Anglo-Scot on the leaderboard. Colin Montgomerie, defeated by Els in a play-off for the US Open last year, resumed yesterday at seven under after rounds of 68 and 67 compared to Els's 66 and 65. "I'll probably need two rounds of 66 to stand a chance of winning," Montgomerie said. From tee to green he was immaculate on Friday but several putts fell a fingernail short of turning pars to birdies. Yesterday he advanced to eight under, as did the Spaniard Miguel Jimenez.

The leader in the clubhouse was Jay Haas, who shot 64 in the third round to stand at nine under, but out on the course Els and O'Meara continued to make progress. Both birdied the first and Els picked up another stroke at the third where he holed out from a bunker. At 13 under, the South African had the lead.

Most of the Europeans survived the cut, the notable exceptions being Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam. Ballesteros has gone off the boil but won enough earlier in the year to secure his Ryder Cup team place. The same cannot be said of Woosnam who has done Bernard Gallacher, Europe's captain, no favours. Ten players get in on merit, Gallacher chooses the other two and one of his wild cards will be handed to Faldo.

Who gets the other one? Woosnam, should he fail to qualify, or Lyle, Jimenez, Jose Maria Olazabal or Jesper Parnevik? Yesterday Faldo failed to make an impression and although he said earlier in the week that he was satisfied with his move from the European to the US Tour, the fact remains that he has not struck a blow in any of the four majors this year and here he was fortunate to make the cut at level par.

"I just can't read the greens," he lamented. "I don't know what the problem is. You're the experts, you tell me." OK. Change your body language from somebody who permanently looks as if he is heading for the gallows and take time off, as Walter Hagen once said, to smell the flowers. And stop all that relentless fine tuning with David Leadbetter. Half an hour with David Letterman might prove more productive. Yesterday Faldo changed his putting grip from cack-handed to the orthodox grip but it did not change his luck. "I might as well look good and miss them than look funny and miss them," he said. "It's driving me up the wall."