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MELBOURNE, Australia – On the practice putting green at Royal Melbourne preparing for his fourth round at the Australian Masters, Jarrod Lyle was where he thought he'd never be Sunday.
Making his first tournament appearance since being struck down by leukemia for the second time, the 32-year-old Lyle admitted before Thursday's first round that he didn't plan to be playing on the weekend. After making the cut Friday, he said he would crawl the final few weekend holes if he had to.
He improved his score each of the first three days, from an opening round 1-over 72 to 1-under 70 on Saturday that left him at even-par for the tournament, 14 strokes behind tournament leader Adam Scott.
As Lyle took his final few putting strokes on the practice green, he joked with his manager, Tony Bouffler, that he was dressed in his "Gary Player black — and I hope I play like him today."
As he walked to the first tee, wife Briony handed their 20-month-old daughter, Lusi to him. Lusi, wearing a yellow shirt with "Go Daddy" on the back, hitched a ride with her dad to nearly the first tee, spectators encouraging him all the way.
Lusi was the child Lyle and Briony never expected to have. After his first battle with leukemia — when he was 17 — doctors told him the chemotherapy drugs would likely make him sterile.
Lyle talked earlier in the week about the "positive" effects of having experienced leukemia before. He knew what to expect and the anti-nausea medication had improved in the 15 years since his first cancer bout.
On the negative side, the chemotherapy did not work as well the second time because his body had experienced it before. So instead of two to three-week stays in hospital, they were often four or five.
Before the tournament began, he thanked all the people had helped him in his recovery over the past nearly two years, including fellow golfers like Tiger Woods who had worn the "Leuk the Duck" pins from his cancer charity Challenge.
"I'm going to dedicate this first tee shot to everybody that's done that over the years or over the last 20 months," Lyle said earlier this week. "Everyone who has got in contact with us and given us support."
Lyle has a medical exemption from the U.S. PGA Tour, where he was playing when leukemia struck in early 2012, but he's unsure when he will return. He has to see the doctors next month for more tests, and Lyle said Sunday they are not keen on travelling much at this stage.
The wear and tear on his body and the rigors of the first three rounds showed Sunday. He finished with an 8-over 79, including bogeys on the last three holes.
Walking from the 10th to 11th holes, he was heard telling playing partner Michael Long of New Zealand: "I went for a walk this morning and I knew it was going to be a long day."
At the 18th, the large gallery applauded. Even Long.
"I played five days in a row, including the pro-am, and the last nine holes I started to feel it," Lyle said. "I got around, and it's not the end I wanted. But it's better than I thought it would be: three good rounds and one shocker, that's golf."
On Monday, unbelievably, it's still more golf for Lyle: a pro-am at his local club, Torquay Sands.
"A few months ago he thought it was a good idea," laughed Briony.
"Yes, but we'll be in carts," Lyle said.
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