Herald on Sunday
How Bland came on brilliantly
In fantasy land: Sometimes his golf matched his name — but not any more
If 48-year-old Richard Bland thought he had entered fantasy land when winning his first European Tour title last month, it is now clear he was barely on its outskirts. Four weeks on from crying on the 18th at the Belfry, here was this supposed journeyman — rated a 1000-1 chance at the start — leading on the second day of the US Open after a brilliant 67.
Golfing folklore already shows the immensely popular English golfer took 478 attempts and 25 years as a pro to become the oldest first-time winner on Tour, emulating so many famous names by picking up the British Masters trophy.
That earned Bland, the world No 115, a place in this week’s field at Torrey Pines for his second appearance in a US major — and just his fourth in a major anywhere — but he evidently did not head to San Diego simply for the hits and giggles.
Indeed, when he signed for his four-under second round heroics — featuring seven birdies and three bogeys — he was comfortably leading in the clubhouse on five under par. In short, the veteran looked like he had been competing on the biggest stages all his career.
The South Course is anything but a pushover, yet Bland seemed oblivious to both the severity of the challenge and the pressure of the occasion.
Perhaps when you have been through qualifying school 10 times and watched your future career prospects dangle on a thread, competing in an US$11 million-plus event does not feel too vexing.
Bland — who once had trials as a goalkeeper for Southampton and is still based in the Hampshire city — appeared unflappable.
If he had provided a masterclass of perseverance in the Midlands, then on the California coast, he was giving another in making the utmost of an opportunity.
It was only three years ago, in 2018, when he suffered the low point in his profession.
At 45, he lost his card, and at home, his brother, Heath, was suffering from a life-threatening illness which saw him placed in an induced coma for a month.
Many figured it was over, but Bland once more picked himself up to grasp back his Tour card, and now he is reaping the rewards of that belligerence of spirit.
Bland will be joined in the third round final pairing by American Russell Henley, who shot a 70 to join Bland at five under.
There are plenty of heavy hitters behind them, including former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (71) and Matthew Wolff (68), the US Open runner-up last year at Winged Foot, who were one shot behind.
Another shot back were two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson (67) and Jon Rahm (70), a past winner at Torrey Pines.
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and arch rival Brooks Koepka were at even par, five shots behind.
The weekend will include Phil Mickelson, whose deft scrambling kept him inside the cut line and he finished with a birdie for a 69. He was seven shots behind in his quest to complete the career Grand Slam.