Just a few weeks after Phil Mickelson became the oldest player to win a major championship at Kiawah Island, the golf world could see another underdog take center stage in a major this week at Torrey Pines.
Englishman Richard Bland -- the 48-year-old who won his first European Tour event in 478 starts last month at the British Masters -- backed up a 1-under 70 Thursday with a sensational round of 67 to take the outright lead as the morning wave concludes.
Bland began his round with three birdies in his first six holes en route to a front-nine 33. Birdies at 10 and 13 to begin the second side got him to 4 under par on the day. Bland played the final stretch in even par to maintain the outright lead. The 67 matches the low round of the week.
Bland entered the week as the ultimate underdog, he was a 400-1 longshot coming in and doesn’t even have a sponsor on his hat (he reps his home golf club in England on the course), but his recent form and a golf course that set up well meant this run wasn’t a total surprise.
“I was coming off a couple of good results, a win and a third in Europe. I was feeling pretty good about my game,” Bland said. “I've been driving the ball well for five, six weeks now, which is the cornerstone if you're going to put a fight up for a U.S. Open.”
Bland said he gained a lot of course knowledge from British veterans Lee Westwood and Justin Rose early in the week, and he knew he could compete as soon as he arrived on the property.
This week marks Bland’s fourth major start with the first coming in 1998, in a long career that involved a lot more valleys than peaks, Bland attributes the recent success to the persistent attitude that comes with a career in golf.
In any golf career, you're going to have peaks and troughs. But I just think every kind of sportsman, sportswoman, they have that never-die or that never-quit attitude,” Bland said. “The old saying is you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight. I've always had that kind of attitude that you just keep going. You never know in this game, you just keep going.”
As big-name players including Rory Mcilroy, Bryson DeChambeau and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson lingered around the cut line, Bland kept his foot on the accelerator and never let up.
That said, there are plenty of world class players behind him, Jon Rahm lurks just two shots back after a second round 70 as he looks to win his first major. Brooks Koepka remains in the top 10 at yet another US Open.
Bland is currently ranked 115th in the world -- the same ranking that Mickelson was when he won at Kiawah -- and that ranking could be the glass slipper as Bland looks to spoil the party this weekend.