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Many people may have counted Richard Bland out before this U.S. Open ever began. Yet the 48-year-old Englishman found himself tied for the lead at Torrey Pines midway through his second round.
Bland, playing in just his second U.S. Open, birdied five of his first 11 holes Friday to move to 4 under, even with co-first-round leader Russell Henley, who hadn’t teed off yet.
Ranked 110th in driving distance after Round 1, Bland has benefitted by hitting it just long enough, keeping it in play and making putts. Through 12 holes Friday, he’s hit 15 of 23 fairways and needed just 44 putts.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 18, 2021
He’s also got the easier nine left in Round 2, in his opinion.
“The way I see this place, your score is probably more on the front nine,” Bland said. “I know the back nine has got the two par-5s but they’re not reachable for me really. Maybe 18 if I smoke one off 18 and it’s warm and it’s a hurricane gale wind I can probably get there.”
Bland broke through for his first European Tour victory last month at the British Masters, ending a winless streak that spanned nearly 20 years and 478 starts. He had to sink a long birdie putt on his 72nd hole and close in 66 just to make a playoff that week, and he out-dueled young Italian Guido Migliozzi to become the oldest first-time winner in Euro Tour history.
Before his win, Bland had accumulated 32 top-10s on Europe’s premier circuit, including a playoff loss at the 2002 Irish Open. He nearly cracked the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2016, getting as high as No. 102, before plummeting outside the top 1,000 in 2019. But four runner-up finishes that year on the Challenge Tour, which he had first graduated from in 2001, helped him get back to the big tour last year.
He tied for third in his most recent Euro Tour start before arriving at Torrey Pines this week for his fourth major start as thee N. 115 player in the world rankings. His first U.S. Open start was in 2009 at Bethpage, where he shot 77-70 to miss the cut.