Golfing great Sandy Lyle reveals his pick to win the 150th Open Championship ‘has got to be Rory McIlroy’ but the Scot also can’t resist looking closer to home as he backs compatriot Robert MacIntyre.
Lyle only won The Open once but his 1985 win was significant for UK golf as it ended a 16-year drought for a British winner.
With fans desperate for a home winner, the 64-year-old became the first since Tony Jacklin in 1969 and he now backs the Brits to lift the Claret Jug again.
Golfing great Sandy Lyle won The Open Championship back in a significant win in 1985
The Scot named Rory McIlroy as his No 1 pick for the 150th Open off the back of his recent win
Lyle spoke to Sportsmail ahead of the 150th Open Championship Claret Jug Tour
Lyle believes McIlroy’s momentum off the back of a win at the Canadian Open two weeks ago puts the Northern Irishman right into contention.
‘The hot name has got to be McIlroy,’ he says. ‘I was very impressed. I didn’t watch every minute of it, but down the stretch in Canada and it looked like the old Rory McIlroy. The Rory we know.
‘He’s driving the ball well. He looked upbeat. He was making putts, he was knocking the pin out with wedges. And he can do that kind of thing and shoot eight under at the same time and only win by two shots when you’ve got Justin Thomas and Tony Finau breathing down your neck.
Lyle claimed the Northern Irishman will be in contention at the major in St Andrews
‘I think they all they enjoyed it. They were all kind of teamed up together and one was feeding off the other. That was nice to see.
‘That’s as relaxed as I’ve seen him play, even though it was high pressure golf. Momentum wise, that’s a huge boost. You can’t buy that in any shop or any drug store – confidence
‘He’s earned it. He’s won the tournament and that’s A plus for him to go into The Open.
Lyle said it was nice to see McIlroy and Justin Thomas (left) enjoying the Canadian Open
‘He obviously looks very fit and he’s amazing how far he hits the ball for such a small little guy which annoys me sometimes but he’s my No 1 pick right now.’
While McIlroy may be Lyle’s frontrunner, he admits he can’t resist backing fellow Scot MacIntyre.
Lyle claims the lefty has got the game to win The Open and insists a victory on home soil at St Andrews would be ‘huge’ for MacIntyre.
Lyle admitted he can’t resist backing fellow Scot Robert MacIntyre
‘God, it’d be huge,’ he exclaims. ‘He’d probably be the first Scottish left-handed golfer in forever I should think.
‘I’ve had a few chances to bump into Bob when he practiced at TPC Sawgrass. We have spoken now and then, and he’s picked my brain about the Masters.
‘He’s had a bit of a quiet year this year. I think he’s still finding his way around and he is realising golf is a tough game. But he’s had some great positions and great opportunities.
‘He’s got the game and he could easily win The Open at St Andrews if he gets that putter nice and warm and his confidence.
‘He knows that I’ve won The Open, so he must feel good about being another Scottish player to win The Open Championship and being a left hander is even different.
‘MacIntyre is one of the top names that pops into my head right now. He’s got the game, he’s got the length. It’s just about momentum and feeling good about yourself and getting used to playing in the big frame of a major tournament.’
One name that can’t go unmentioned is of course Tiger Woods.
The 15-time major champion made a sensational return at the Masters this year, 14 months on from a horrific car crash that almost cost him his leg.
The golfing great sat out the US Open last week to prioritise playing at St Andrews and Lyle insists Woods will be the biggest draw to this year’s tournament.
Legend Tiger Woods will be one of the biggest draws of The Open Championship this year
‘You couldn’t put it on the charts, it is huge. He is the master of The Open. He’s the biggest draw.
‘You could have 10 McIlroys, but one Tiger and I’m sure he’ll draw the biggest crowd. It’s just the way he is, he’s an icon.
‘I sit there sometimes with my mouth open at what he’s achieved in a very short period of time. It’s just really mind-boggling.
‘Of course with the 150th coming up, he’s definitely gonna be there unless he has another car accident.
The 15-time major champion made a historic return to golf at the Masters in April
‘It’ll be an Open within an Open and one to remember. Tiger’s still got a good chance of winning. He’s not gonna play unless he feels like he can compete at a high level. He showed at the Masters this year that he can still do it and St Andrews is an easier course to walk.’
The R&A confirmed this week that the LIV Golf Series defectors will be allowed to compete in next month’s tournament, meaning the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau will be set to tee it up.
The decision echoes the one made by the US Open last week, despite the PGA Tour banning the rebels who competed in the Saudi-backed breakaway’s inaugural event at the Centurion Club.
As golf’s civil war rages on, threatening to overshadow the historic major next month, Lyle likens the debacle to a never-ending court case.
The R&A confirmed this week that the LIV Golf Series defectors, including Dustin Johnson (left) and Phil Mickelson (right) will be allowed to compete next month
‘It’s like being at a court case and it’s year after year of not knowing what the result is going to be. There’s going to be ups and downs and swings and roundabouts. I’m just from looking from the outside of the rails, I’m not really involved with any part of it because I’m with the seniors’ tour.’
However, Lyle admits he is not sure how long the breakaway series will survive as he supports the structure of the PGA Tour.
Lyle admitted he is not sure how long the breakaway series will survive
‘The structure of the PGA Tour is very, very good. They allow the young players to play Korn Ferry stuff and various other things to get experience. You’ve got the main tour and got the Champions Tour for the guys who are over 50. There’s pension funds too. So there’s a huge, huge, big structure formulated for the players.
‘This is a whole new ball game this Saudi Tour. Yes, it’s got money. It’s got backing. Down the line if that money gets pulled in two years, three years, four years, will they stay? I don’t know.’
Lyle boasts two major titles to his name having won The Open at Royal St. George’s in 1985, before going on to claim the Green Jacket at the Masters three years later.
However, when asked which was more special to him he claims the two cannot be separated as the wins each felt unique to him.
He admits the Masters win comes with added clout around the world but The Open has historic sentiment.
‘The Masters gives me a lot of mileage for America, as far as the Green Jacket goes.
‘Everybody knows the green jacket. You could be in the middle of Japan and someone says “He’s a Masters champion” and you can see their face light up.
The two-time major champions claimed the Master Green Jacket provides him more clout
The 64-year-old claimed his two major wins were both special for different reasons
‘But they were two different wins. The Masters, I was leading virtually from day one, hanging in there. So I answered a lot of questions of myself – “am I good enough to maintain a Masters lead and win the tournament?”
‘The Open Championship was hanging in there, there or thereabout. It was three or four off, back to two off, never really quite controlling like Tiger Woods.
‘So I was never really sure that I might win The Open. And then all of a sudden, bam I made a couple of birdies at the right time and had a one shot lead. Then it hits you.
‘Both are huge. And of course The Open is the oldest one, 150 years coming up. So it doesn’t get any better than that plus the history.’
Sandy Lyle is supporting The 150th Open Championship Claret Jug Tour, in partnership with HSBC UK.
The tour will visit schools, golf clubs, city centres and HSBC branches.
The famous trophy will work its way across the UK and Ireland, finishing at St Andrews for The 150th Open in July.
Sandy Lyle is supporting The 150th Open Championship Claret Jug Tour, in partnership with HSBC UK