• Rewind to 1988

Lyle pulls off the great escape to Master Augusta

Jo Carter April 5, 2012
Defending champion Larry Mize presents Sandy Lyle with his green jacket © Getty Images

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As the top three players in the world, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood arrive at Augusta National Golf Club looking to get their hands on the famous green jacket, we look back to a famous Masters win for Scotland's Sandy Lyle.

We rewind to 1988, when Lyle's stunning bunker shot on the final hole saw him become the first Brit to win the Masters, sparking a period of British dominance at Augusta.

Coming into the event, Lyle was at the peak of his powers, ranked at No. 3 in the world behind Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. He was already a major winner, having become the first British player since Tony Jacklin in 1969 to win the Open in 1985. And he arrived at Augusta in high spirits, having just won the Greater Greensboro Open in North Carolina.

Having led for the best part of three days, Lyle looked to be good value for his lead in the early stages on Sunday. Reaching the fabled Amen Corner, Lyle was two strokes clear but Mark Calcavecchia snatched the lead after Lyle bogeyed the 11th and hit his tee-shot into the water for a double-bogey five at the 12th.

"After nine holes of the final round I had a two-shot lead, and I was feeling quite good going into Amen Corner," Lyle recalls. "As I was going over to the 12th tee I saw that Bernhard Langer, who was in the group ahead of me, had hit an eight-iron. I saw his caddie put it back in the bag. So that's what I hit, but it ended up in the water, and I took double-bogey.

"I knew I hadn't blown it, because I was now tied with Calcavecchia with two par-fives to come."

"I developed jelly hands...by then I was just hoping to get into a play-off."

Having failed to pick up a shot on the par-five 13th or the par-four 14th, Lyle had a birdie opportunity on the par-five 15th. A five-iron from the fairway found the back of the green, leaving him with two shots for birdie.

"My chip kissed the hole and went five feet past, and that's when the pressure got to me a bit," he said. "I developed jelly hands, and left the putt short, which meant both par-fives gone without a birdie. By then I was just hoping to get into a play-off."

With just three holes remaining, Lyle was running out of time. Finding the green with his drive at the par-three 16th, he was left with a 12-foot putt for birdie, which he holed to claw himself back level with Calcavecchia.

Standing on the tee of the 72nd and final hole, Lyle knew he needed a birdie to win, or a par to force a play-off. Things were not looking good for the Scot when his tee shot found the bunker on the left of the fairway, 147 yards from the pin.

"I knew on the tee that the main thing I needed to do was stay out of the bunker so I hit a one-iron up the hill thinking I would be safe. Wrong!" he recalls. "The lip on that bunker wasn't too bad but I knew the way the ball rolled in there that it would be up against the face. So I'm walking towards it with a black cloud descending, thinking this was not looking too great."

But, in what has become one of the most celebrated shots at Augusta, Lyle performed a famous escape act, crisply hitting his seven-iron from the sand, which landed beyond the hole and trickled back down the hill to leave him within ten feet of the hole.

"I couldn't see the flag, so I lined up on a cloud at the back of the green, and as soon as I hit the ball I knew it was right in that air space," Lyle said. "The reaction from the crowd was a little bit subdued at first, so I thought it was maybe at the back of the green, then they started cheering, so I was expecting it to be two feet away. As it turned out it was about 18 feet, much longer than it looked on TV, but ... you know what happened next."

Lyle held his nerve to hole the putt for a birdie, and broke into a celebratory dance, having become the first man since Arnold Palmer in 1960 to birdie the final hole and win.

"I don't know that there's ever been a better shot in a major," Lyle said. "I remember Tiger Woods, on the 18th at the Canadian Open a few years ago, hitting 185 yards from a bunker, over water, to a green about the size of this table. That was incredible. But this was the Masters.

"I'd led The Masters for the four days. I went and won it. The Open at Royal St George's [in 1985] was special, too, but was as much a case of other people making a hash of it as of me going on and winning the thing. I played the last four holes of that tournament in one-under-par, which was two or three shots better than the field."

What happened next?
Lyle's win sparked a four-year run of British winners at Augusta - Nick Faldo won back-to-back tournaments in 1989 and 1990 before Welshman Ian Woosnam tasted victory in 1991. Lyle would never be in contention in another Masters and had just one more top-ten finish in a major, tying for seventh at the 1988 Open. As a former champion, Lyle has the privilege of being invited to return to Augusta every year. At the age of 54, Lyle will step onto the first tee on Thursday in what will be his 31st Masters appearance.

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Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk