He exemplifies the qualities that long have endeared the British to America, the understatement and quiet resolve that carried his countrymen through wars and worries with lips that are stiff and grace that is unfailing.

Alexander Walter Barr Lyle is as cool as a winter evening in England, where he was groomed to achieve golfing greatness as surely as any pretender to the throne is readied to be made a king.It was the Brits who gave golf to the United States in the Victorian Age, and it is a Brit who has taken the year's first major championship by storm, defying custom but deifying competition. Let us raise a glass of Watney's Red Barrel and sing a chorus of "God Save the Queen."

What Sandy Lyle saved in the lengthening shadows of early evening Sunday was the Masters tournament, saved it from a seemingly inevitable playoff, saved it for himself and his island nation.

He had done what he was advised not to do, taking a chance on the 12th hole that proved disappointing and almost disastrous. Then he did what we thought he could not do, making a birdie on the final green for a one-shot victory.

The back nine at Augusta National golf Club, home of the Masters since its beginning in the mid-1930s, is a place fraught with pressure and problems, opportunities abundant enough to make one a hero and pitfalls prevalent enough to brand one a disgrace.

Over the years it is on the back nine, with its water hazards and hard greens, where the tournament is handed from player to player like so many unwanted cards in a wisk game before, finally, someone with an upright swing and level head clutches it for dear life.

Amen Corner is an arrowhead of tension, presumably named for a jazz song of the 1940s, "Stompin' in Amen Corner," where the 11th green, 12th hole and 13th tee come together and over the years many a man's game has come apart.

For a long time on this glorious afternoon deep in the pines and magnolias, the only question about 30-year-old Sandy Lyle was whether he was an Englishman or, as he calls himself, a Scot.

And then Lyle, contemptuous of history, took a gamble that was unneeded. On such decisions do nations tumble and are sporting titles decided.

The 12th at Augusta is a 150-yard par-3 over Raes Creek. In line with the tradition of naming each hole after a flower, the 12th is called Golden Bell. The warning rings out loud and clear.

On Sundays the pin is set to the far right, where it appears to bob like a buoy on water. The rule of thumb is never to go at the pin but to the middle of the green, unless you're behind. Lyle broke the rule.

He hit an 8-iron shot that struck the far bank and trickled back into the water.

And on television Tom Weiskopf, who when he was a player once hit five balls into the water and made a record 13 on the hole, practically shouted, "You don't ever shoot at the pin when you're in Lyle's position. Ever! Ever! Ever!"

Too late the admonition. Lyle dropped another ball on the near side of a bank to play a shot the great Bobby Jones, Augusta's creator, called, "Terrifying indeed." He went just over the green and ended up with a double-bogey five.

There was a bit of a frown on Sandy's deeply tanned face but no visible displays of anger.

"The hole was probably playing easier than ever," said Lyle. "It was a chance taken, and I paid the penalty. And I went on."

He went on to greatness. He birdied 16, to tie Mark Calcavecchia for first, after Calcavecchia had moved in front. Then Sandy, out of a fairway bunker with a spectacular 149-yard seven-iron shot, birdied 18 to win. In a concession to emotion, Lyle even raised his hands.

"It looked a little dodgy," Lyle would inform us. "I thought there would be a playoff."

Was he confident about making the 10-foot birdie putt on 18, which would give him a 72-hole score of 7-under-par 281?

"You spend years playing golf. You learn to keep your nerves under reasonable control. It was just a matter of getting the direction and pace."

If you can keep your head while all others about you are losing theirs, wrote another Brit, one Rudyard Kipling, then you are a man.

Lyle, winner of the 1985 British Open, is nothing less. But when still a boy he learned a temper was no substitute for talent.

"Sandy's no different now than he was then," said Tony Jacklin, the last Brit to win a major American tournament, the 1970 U.S. Open.

"He's always been a great ball striker, but our Sandy is so laid-back he's maddening. It's difficult to get to the bottom of him." Or as someone else said of Lyle, he goes along in a world of unconscious competence.

Does he go as Scot or Englishman? He's a Shropshire lad, from the area of England made famous in the poem by A.E. Housman. Yet the British writers always refer to him as a Scot.

"My mother and father were born in Glasgow," said Lyle calmly. "He moved to the English Midlands as a pro cum greenskeeper. I've got Scottish blood. As an amateur I chose to play for England. When I turned pro, I chose to play for Scotland."

Whomever he plays for, he plays well. He's the first Brit and fourth foreigner to win the Masters. And he won with courage and grace. As we would expect of any Brit.