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Sandy Lyle likely to be cardless in 2004

It is highly likely that Sandy Lyle will be without an official European Tour card for next season and the double-major champion's plight was the chief subject in the clubhouse last week at Hilversum.

The man who became the first British winner of the British Open for 16 years when he prevailed at Royal St George's in 1985 and then produced an exhilarating finish to win at Augusta three years later will not exactly be out in the cold.

He will have nine tournaments in which he qualifies automatically as a past winner and, as one of the most popular players to have trod a European Tour fairway, he is likely to get at least a similar number of invitations.

With three events in America he can play as a past winner, including the Masters, and exemption for the British Open, the 45-year-old three-times European number one will have a full enough season.

That is, even if he does not pick up enough in his last event, the Madrid Open, to climb back into the career money-list top 40 exempt players, from which he was bumped out by a trio of players in their 20s and early 30s.

The whole issue of the career money-list brought suggestions of a complete overhaul last week from players like Lyle's contemporary and compatriot Gordon Brand Junior.

Springing to Lyle's defence after being asked for his opinion of the money-list, Brand was able to speak from a position of strength when he labelled the career rankings as 'obsolete' and 'irrelevant' because he was in an unassailable 30th place on the list.

Lyle and Brand's plea to scrap the present list, which does not allow for the huge inflation in prize money, should not fall on European Tour deaf ears.

The assertion by one European Tour official last week that it has been the same since the list was inaugurated and past champions all suffer because of prize increases -- Neil Coles and Tommy Horton were cited as examples of how their wins were diminished when Lyle and Faldo came on the scene -- does not hold water.

Most of the past champions had finished playing on the main tour by the time they were relegated from the career list.

Lyle still has five years to go before he is a senior and 1989 European number one Ronan Rafferty is only 39 years old, now down to only 43rd on the career earnings list.

Ian Poulter, who is only in his third year on tour, is a place above Rafferty and one below Lyle.

Gary Evans, who has not even won a title, could soon break into the top 40, having moved to 50th spot this week.

A compromise which makes it fairer to past champions, however, may not be an easy business and would involve many man hours at tour HQ.

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