By Andrew Both
ST LOUIS (Reuters) - Australian golfers played with a heavy heart at the PGA Championship following the death of compatriot Jarrod Lyle, with the country's top three players all paying tribute to the 36-year-old who died of cancer on Wednesday.
Marc Leishman said he broke down on hearing the news on tournament eve, while Adam Scott said getting out onto the course on Thursday had been a welcome distraction. Both played junior golf with Lyle.
"I had a cry last night, as everyone did I think," Leishman said after the first round at Bellerive. "He fought all the way to the end. That's the person he was, never give up until the fight was over."
Leishman recalled a young man who enjoyed giving the needle to his friends.
"He gave shit to everyone and he expected it back and he was good at copping it," Leishman added.
"I don't want to remember him when he was sick. I want to remember him when he was Jarrod."
Scott said he had spoken to people who had been in touch with Lyle in the last week of his life.
"He was so comfortable," said 2013 Masters champion Scott. "To be so optimistic when he was dealt a pretty tough hand in life was amazing.
"He was a larrikin really at heart but a great bloke too.
"He was a big unit, had a big smile and wasn't afraid to make people laugh."
Lyle, who played 121 events on the PGA Tour, was first diagnosed with cancer as a teenager.
Fellow Australian Jason Day did not play junior golf with Lyle, but the two were neighbours when based in Florida early in their careers.
"He battled half his life, and the crazy thing is he was always upbeat and positive," Day said.
"For him to first get diagnosed with it when he was 17 years old and then battle three times, it just goes to show how much of a fighter he was inside to be able to keep pushing on even though it was painful to go through the stuff that he went through."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)