1986 Masters: Lyle's hair-raising experience

Jack Nicklaus on the 18th green during the final round of the 1986 Masters. He would win his sixth Masters title.

Sandy Lyle had never played with Jack Nicklaus before the final round of the 1986 Masters. And they’ve never been paired together since.

“Can you believe my luck?” Lyle asks, cracking an oversized smile.

It’s a day Lyle is reminded about often, and it still seems improbable.

“There were no signs the first eight holes,” he says.

Nicklaus’ back-nine charge remains fresh in Lyle’s memory. He begins spouting out his favorite moments of the round like a grown man telling of going to the ballpark with his dad for the first time. “We were walking up 13 and Jack turned to me and said, ‘Did you hear what Jackie said to me? He says this is too much for his young heart to handle. What about me? I’m 46.’ ”

Lyle remembers the putts best. First, there was the eagle putt at No. 15.

“I’ve never heard a roar like that. The crowd went bananas,” he says. “It raised the hairs on the back of my neck.”

Lyle says that after Nicklaus knocked his tee shot stiff at the par-3 16th, it was apparent everyone in the gallery was rooting for Nicklaus. Spectators told him about Ballesteros’ watery fate at the 15th.

Then came the putt on the 17th.

“(Jack) knew how important that putt was at 17, but it was also his hardest putt of the day,” Lyle remembers. “It had to be paced just right. It had to be firm enough to keep the line but it could’ve easily gone flying by the hole. It was a very steady putt that just knew its way in.”

Lyle said Nicklaus was unlucky that his approach shot to 18 rolled down the hill to the lower level of the green, leaving him a testy 40-foot putt.

“He hit a hell of a putt. It stopped inches short,” Lyle remembers. “If he made that putt there, I would’ve bowed to him.”

Lyle never was a factor that day, shooting 71 and finishing T-11, his best finish at Augusta to that point. In 1988, he won the green jacket thanks in no small part to what he had learned from Nicklaus two years earlier.

“Jack was so focused,” Lyle says. “He kept the same rhythm and the same pace all day, and that was something I learned from and tried to mimic.”

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