DID you do anything to mark World Oral Health Day the other week? I mention this purely on the basis that I’ve always had fairly dodgy teeth. In fact, my higgledy-piggledy assembly of gnashers resemble the crude, irregular denticulations you’d see carved into the gaping mouth of a tumshie lantern. As for their colour? Blimey. It looks like life itself has wiped its feet on them. Forget the pearly whites, they’ve got the same russet hue as a poke of barley sugars.

I’ve decided that chiselling out a weekly column does little to help matters on the fangs front. The general teeth grinding that goes on amid its laborious construction, after all, just about leads to a light stoor of granulated enamel building up on the laptop keys.

“So,” I hear you groan, “what are we getting our teeth into this week?” Well, I was going to waffle on about the end of an era for the WGC Matchplay Championship but then news filtered through that good auld Sandy Lyle is retiring. It would, therefore, be remiss of me not to start with an honourable nod to this true golfing great.

The announcement was, in many ways, typically Sandy. There was no grand fanfare, just quiet, unassuming reflection. “You’ll be missed,” said a reporter at the Champions Tour event in the US where the curtain came down. “You never know,” responded Lyle with the gentle smile of a gentle man.

You don’t need me to tell you what a mighty campaigner Lyle was. That spontaneous jig of joy, and the sweaty oxters, on Augusta’s 18th at the 1988 Masters would not have gained many marks for artistic merit from the Strictly Come Dancing judges, but Lyle’s golfing footsteps had blazed a trail on the world stage. “The greatest God-given talent in history,” Seve Ballesteros once said. “If everyone in the world was playing their best, Sandy would win... and I’d come second.”

For a spell, in the mid to late ’80s, Lyle, who is set for a Masters swansong next week, was the best golfer on the planet and part of Europe’s formidable famous five which also included Seve, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer. The Scot conquered St George’s in 1985 to win The Open while his memorable Masters success three years later – the bunker and that 7-iron – was the first ever by a player from the United Kingdom.

In between, he landed an historic Players’ Championship title in 1987. The donning of the Green Jacket in 1988 would be the pinnacle of this brief but barnstorming period of plunder and prosperity.

That he was the only one of that aforementioned quintet not to captain the European Ryder Cup team was always a sore one to stomach. Through it all, though, Lyle remained amiable and approachable. He was a national treasure.

My dear old colleague, the late Jock MacVicar, would often recount the time a giddy Scottish press corps began steeling themselves for the prospect of Lyle becoming the first Scot in the modern era to win The Open as affairs unravelled down the stretch at St George’s.

The idea of a vastly increased workload, however, did not sit too well with Raymond Jacobs, The Herald’s eloquent golf correspondent of the day. As the action ebbed and flowed to a finale out on the links, and the hum of exhilarated industry intensified in the media centre, Raymond, in Jock’s words, “took to his feet, shook his head and said, ‘We are now entering uncharted territory’, before sitting back down’.”

As Jock would point out, Raymond’s gloomy, gasping observation about the enhanced, incoming requirements from his various editors was as doom-laden as Private Frazer’s apocalyptic mutterings in Dad’s Army.

For Raymond, Jock and the rest of the golf writers, though, the glory-laden territory Lyle would take them into over the next couple of years was worth the elevated word counts. It was a golden age. Here’s to a happy retirement.


It’s not just the end for Sandy Lyle. It’s farewell too – for the time being at least – to the WGC Matchplay Championship.

As we all know, matchplay golf, in its purest form, is wonderfully straightforward. The winner roars on, the loser is oot. In the money-soaked industry of the professional game, of course, this kind of win-or-bust formula leaves tournament organisers, sponsors and TV companies squirming like a bag of eels at the crushing prospect of the star attractions being ejected on the first day.

Remember back in 2002 when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were knocked out in round one by Peter O’Malley and John Cook respectively?

So, what do you do? That’s right, you arrange a round-robin format whereby every player in the 64-man field is guaranteed at least three matches. The WGC Matchplay of recent years may have been slightly contrived – the purists will always want straight knock-out combat – but it was a format which, by and large, kept everybody happy. Ok, so we didn’t get the Scottie Scheffler versus Rory McIlroy showpiece final but their defeats in the semis underlined the unpredictable nature of the matchplay beast.

In a staple diet of 72-hole,

identikit strokeplay events on tour,

a change of fare to a matchplay offering is always something to savour. It’s a shame it won’t be on the menu anymore.