Richard Bland shares lead as unlikely group thriving at US Open

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Open leaderboard is topped by an eclectic group entering the weekend at Torrey Pines.

Richard Bland, a 48-year-old journeyman from England, who got into the field by recently capturing his first European Tour win after 477 tries without one, seized a share of the 36-hole lead at 5-under with a morning second round of 4-under 67 Friday.

Bland has played in three career major championships, missing the cut in the 1998 British Open, missing the cut in the 2009 U.S. Open and finished tied for 27th in the 2017 British.

“I was coming off a couple of good results, a win and a third in Europe,’’ Bland said. “I was feeling pretty good about my game. 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.

“When I saw this place on Monday, it kind of set up to my eye. I thought, ‘I can play around here.’ ’’

Richard Bland, at left, and Russell Henley share the two-day 2021 U.S. Open lead.
Richard Bland (left) and Russell Henley share the two-day 2021 U.S. Open lead.
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Russell Henley is tied with Bland for the lead at 5-under after shooting 70 Friday. Henley, who has three career PGA Tour wins (the most recent in 2017), has played in 25 career majors and never had a top-10 finish.

“I feel good about my game,’’ Henley said. “I’ve never been in this position before in a major. I just feel like I’m going to learn something no matter what happens. Intimidating? I don’t know. I’ve never played this well in a U.S. Open.’’

Asked what he knows about Bland, with whom he’ll be paired in the final group Saturday, Henley said, “I know he won earlier this year. It might have been his first win on the European Tour. Other than that, I don’t. I’m sure he knows nothing about me too.’’

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who has the dubious distinction of having a career Grand Slam of runner-up finishes in all four majors, and Matthew Wolff, who returned this week after a two-month mental-break hiatus, are both tied for second at 4-under.

Wolff, who held the 54-hole lead at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and finished second to Bryson DeChambeau, admitted he’s “very surprised’’ at how well he’s playing after taking so much time away from the game.

“I know that I’ve played good golf in the past, but the low time that I had was pretty tough,’’ he said. “My confidence was shot. I’d say I came here with very, very … I’d say no expectations. I’d say my expectations coming here were to enjoy it and be happy, and I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to do that. Thankfully, I am, as well as playing well.’’

Bubba Watson, who shot 67 Friday and is 3-under for the tournament, has played poorly in U.S. Opens for the past decade. His last 10 U.S. Open results since 2011: tied for 63rd, missed cut, tied for 32nd, missed cut, missed cut, tied for 51st, missed cut, missed cut, missed cut, and tied for 31st last year at Winged Foot.

So, to say Watson being near the top of the leaderboard is an unlikely occurrence is a significant understatement. And that’s not lost on him.

“Whatever position I’m in, I made the cut, so that’s a bonus for me,’’ he said.

On the other end of that spectrum is Jon Rahm, who’s also 3-under after shooting 70 Friday. Rahm was the favorite to win this week, coming off hot form and the fact his first career PGA Tour win came at Torrey Pines in 2017.

Rahm, of course, is coming off that nightmare at Memorial a few weeks ago, when he was forced to withdraw from the tournament despite leading by six shots entering the final round, after he tested positive for COVID-19.

“I do believe in karma in the sense that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to people that do bad things,’’ Rahm said. “We’re talking about things I can’t control. What happened a couple weeks ago is something I can’t control.’’

Watson said he believes he is poised for a potential big weekend.

Asked how he feels about his position, Watson said: “I don’t know where I’m at, but I know I’m talking to you all [reporters], so I know I’m doing all right. I’m looking forward to [the weekend], though. A golf course that I’ve been successful around a few times, top-10 a few times, so looking forward to the challenge kind of. Should be fun.’’

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