Bland’s renaissance sees him lead US Open as McIlroy grinds it out

English veteran takes one-shot clubhouse lead at Torrey Pines

Rory McIlroy tosses his putter in the air in reaction to a missed putt for par on the 16th green during the second round of the US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy tosses his putter in the air in reaction to a missed putt for par on the 16th green during the second round of the US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

 

The old dog for the hard road and all of that; well, maybe there’s some truth in it after all. For, as the second round of the 121st US Open unfolded over the South Course at Torrey Pines overlooking the Pacific, Richard Bland’s demeanour as he made the unlikeliest of journeys to the summit of the leaderboard was that of a man taking it all in his stride.

Elsewhere, the story seemed different. Rory McIlroy, for one, lived out every shot – many errant, others a thing of beauty – as he grinded out a score. So too Dustin Johnson, who, having endured four bogeys in a row at one point, appeared downbeat and sometimes clueless only to rediscover why he is the world number one. Others, like Matt Wallace, appeared dog-weary in making early departures.

So, a month after a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson lifted the Wanamaker Trophy as US PGA champion, another old-timer hogged the limelight.

Richard Bland of England waits on the ninth tee during the second round. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images
Richard Bland of England waits on the ninth tee during the second round. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

In Bland’s case, the 48-year-old – who finally tasted a breakthrough win in last month’s British Masters in his 478th European Tour appearance – ventured into unknown territory. In just his second US Open appearance (his first in 2009 ended in a missed cut), the years of hard toil seemed to act as a rejuvenation where no shot seemed too difficult and no lie impossible.

“As we get older, everything kind of creaks in the morning and there’s a new ache to wake up to. For me it’s just more on the flexibility side now,” he said.

Bland’s second round of 67 for a midway total of five-under-par 137 earned him the clubhouse lead from the first wave of players, a shot clear of Louis Oosthuizen and with Bubba Watson charging to five birdies in his closing six holes to also sign for a 67 to be two shots adrift on 139 where he was also joined by course specialist Jon Rahm.

For McIlroy, it was a day to hang tough. And he did for the most part, his facial expression on shots, bad and good, providing an insight his inner self. The Northern Irishman added a 73 to his opening 70 for a midway total of 143 but it was a roller-coaster round of seven bogeys and five birdies that stubbornly refused to provide any equilibrium. The weekend, though, offers the chance to chip away and to make up ground in a role as pursuer.

McIlroy’s topsy-turvy round was at times in danger of unraveling completely, most evidently in a run of three bogeys in four holes after making the turn. A bogey on the second (his 11th) was shortly followed by back-to-back dropped shots on the fourth, where he drove into a fairway bunker, and another on the fifth. There, from the middle of the fairway, he tugged his iron approach left into heavy greenside rough to short-side himself and fail to convert the 12 footer for par.

Respite came in the form of a birdie on the 507 yards Par 4 sixth and another on the Par 5 ninth, his closing hole, where he played a lovely bunker recovery.

“A bit of a roller-coaster,” conceded McIlroy. “I made a couple of mental errors and missed it in the wrong spots and when you do that around this golf course, it’s just really hard to see a par. But birdieing two of the last three holes makes me feel better and gives me a nice bit of momentum. One-over is right in it and I still feel like I’ve got a really good chance.”

McIlroy added: “I think my alignment was getting a little off. I’ll work on that. I felt like I drove the ball pretty well, just need to straighten out the irons a little bit. If I can do that, I should have a good chance.”

Bland’s end-of-the-summer-wine win in the British Masters so late in his career has provided a new lease of life, seemingly thriving in the heady heights he has belatedly reached in his career. That win at The Belfry got him to Torrey Pines off the European Tour’s qualifying mini-order of merit.

But his own words provide some insight into his battle-hardened ways. As he put it, “Golf is all I know. When times got tough and I lost my card two or three times, ‘What am I going to do? Go and get an office job?’

“I’m not that intelligent I’m afraid. I’ve always been someone that can get my head down and work hard. I always knew I had the game to compete on the European Tour at the highest level . . . . but, as any golf career, you’ve going to have peaks and troughs. I just think every kind of sportsman, sportswoman, they have that never-say-die or never-quit attitude. I’ve always had that attitude. You just never know in this game, you just keep going.”

Which is not a bad attitude at all to take into the weekend of a US Open, riding a peak.

US Open 36-hole clubhouse scores

Torrey Pines (Par 71)

137 - Richard Bland (Eng) 70 67

138 - Louis Oosthuizen (SA) 67 71

139 - Bubba Watson (USA) 72 67, Jon Rahm (Sp) 69 70

140 - Kevin Streelman (USA) 71 69

141 - Scottie Scheffler (USA) 72 69

142 - Christiaan Bezuidenhout (SA) 72 70, Bryson DeChamneau (USA) 73 69, Branden Grace (SA) 72 70

143 - Tom Hoge (USA) 72 71, Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 70 73, Matt Jones (Aus) 72 71, Lee Westwood (Eng) 71 72, Sungjae Im (SKor) 72 71

144 - Chez Reavie (USA) 76 68, Robert MacIntyre (Scot) 71 73, Joaquin Niemann (Ce) 75 69

145 - Charl Schwartzel (SA) 71 74, Hideki Matsuyama (Jp) 69 96, Adam Scott (Aus) 70 75

146 - Wade Ormsby (Aus) 72 74, Taylor Montgomery (USA) 70 76, Troy Merritt (USA) 75 71, Paul Casey (Eng) 71 75, Jordan Spieth (USA) 77 69

147 - Taylor Pendrith (Can) 75 72, Zach Zaback (USA) 75 72, Erik Van Rooyen (SA) 74 73

148 - Matt Wallace (Eng) 74 74, Garrick Higgo (SA) 76 72

149 - Jordan Smith (Eng) 77 72, Joe Highsmith (USA) 76 73

150 - Eric Cole (USA) 77 73

151 - Hayden Buckley (USA) 69 82

153 - David Coupland (Eng) 74 79

156 - Steve Allan (Aus) 80 79

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