AUGUSTA, Ga. — For awhile, it looked as though Sandy Lyle would run away with the Masters. But when he left the 18th green Saturday afternoon at Augusta National, he was walking away, not running, after shooting a 72 for a 210 total.
It is still Lyle's Masters to win today since he is the leader by two shots with 18 holes to play. However, this is also a period when leaders very often become followers.
Accordingly, Lyle said he will carry one thought with him when he walks out to the first tee.
"There's trouble around the corner every time," he said.
And out there among the Georgia pine trees, there will be a lot of golfers pining for a chance to flatten him with a 4-iron.
One of them is Mark Calcavecchia, who three years ago was in the gallery watching the Masters instead of playing in it. Calcavecchia, tied with Ben Crenshaw only two shots behind Lyle, is not the type to get awed by anything.
The first time Calcavecchia saw Magnolia Lane, which leads up to the historic Augusta National clubhouse, someone asked him what he thought of it.
"It looks just like a street with a bunch of trees on it to me," he said.
And what does Lyle look like to him?
"I don't know what he's feeling," Calcavecchia said. "But with as many tournaments as he's won and with as much experience as he has, he's still got a lot to worry about."
Lyle didn't look too worried Saturday, even though the four-shot lead he held after 12 holes was down to one after the 16th.
Not an hour before, Raymond Floyd was busy anointing Lyle as the player most likely to win the Masters in a runaway.
But that was before Lyle ran into some trouble, Crenshaw began making some birdie putts and Calcavecchia got an eagle on the 15th.
When Lyle was all smiles a little earlier, Crenshaw was getting very concerned.
"You're thinking 'Dang it, where are we going to make up a shot or two?' " he said.
It happened quickly. Normally as conservative as a three-piece suit, Lyle gambled on the 13th hole and it cost him. His drive landed in a water-filled ditch and he had to take a drop. Then his 4-iron was short, he pitched to 30 feet and two-putted from there for a bogey 6.
Calcavecchia, who finished with a 72, gave the shot back when he bogeyed 14, but he eagled the next hole after a 4-iron got him to within 12 feet and he made the putt.
When Lyle bogeyed the par-3 16th, leaving his second shot in the fringe, Calcavecchia was only one stroke behind.
But then Calcavecchia bogeyed the 17th and Lyle's lead was two shots again, which is exactly as it was when the day began.
So is Lyle really going to win this thing?
"I wouldn't exactly say I was playing badly," Lyle said. "(Sunday) is the day. I've got to win it now. If I take a real kamikaze dive, I've got to try to slow things down and come out of it."
Crenshaw, who appeared out of it early, birdied three of the last five holes to finish with the day's best score, 67. He then pronounced himself in pretty good shape . . . certainly better than some of the greens.
"It was the kind of round I needed to get in some sort of shape," Crenshaw said. "I hope I just keep swinging the way I am. That's all I can hope for, really.
"(Lyle) is playing so well, but how many times have we seen the tournament wildly fluctuate on the last day?" Crenshaw asked.
There is still plenty of room for movement during the last 18 holes. Bernhard Langer, Fuzzy Zoeller and Fred Couples are only four shots back. Seve Ballesteros, Craig Stadler and Don Pooley are five shots behind Lyle and certainly still within striking distance.
Crenshaw said Lyle can be caught.
"Nobody has an edge," he said. "You just go out there and hope for the best."
Zoeller, who shot a 72, said there is no reason to think that Lyle will fold on the bent grass greens.
"Look, he's won about $400,000, he's won two tournaments and he's got a 2-shot lead," Zoeller said. "I don't think he's feeling any pressure."
Tom Watson disagreed with Zoeller, which is not altogether unexpected because they've been after each other all week.
"If you don't feel that heavy pressure on the back nine, you're not human," Watson said.
Watson finished with a 73 and is six shots back of Lyle, tied with Doug Tewell. Watson, who was criticized by Zoeller on Friday for not speaking up about the condition of the greens, had a triple-bogey 6 on the 16th when he 4-putted, only one of them longer than 3 feet.
Zoeller was something short of sympathetic to Watson's plight.
"I hope he enjoyed every stroke of it," Zoeller said. "It's a damn shame it wasn't six."
Not too many of those chasing Lyle were able to pick up much ground. Crenshaw was the only one among Lyle's nearest challengers to score in the 60s although Ballesteros and Stadler came close with 70s. It was Ballesteros' best round of the tournament.
"I'm very pleased with my position," Ballesteros said.
"Sandy Lyle is really a little bit inconsistent," he said. "The man can really play great golf, but sometimes he doesn't play so great at all."