Bland hopes wild ride ends with a real trip to Augusta

March 25, 2022 GMT
Richard Bland watches his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Richard Bland watches his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Richard Bland watches his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Richard Bland watches his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
1 of 3
Richard Bland watches his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Richard Bland was supposed to be playing Augusta National this week with a club member until he qualified for the Dell Technologies Match Play.

Now he has a chance to play there in the Masters.

The 49-year-old from England, who went 478 starts on the European tour before finally winning last year, emerged Friday as the most unlikely of the 16 players to advance to the knockout stage on he weekend. He beat Lee Westwood 2 and 1 to win his group.

One more victory — against Dustin Johnson — might be enough to get him into the top 50 in the world to qualify for the Masters

“I don’t really watch a huge amount of golf at home, but the Masters I’m there from the first shot to the last putt. I don’t move,” Bland said. “It’s just the best tournament to watch on TV and I can only assume it’s a million times better to play in it. So if I get there, I think with the 12 months that I’ve had, that would be a pretty nice sort of cherry on the top.”

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What a year, indeed.

Bland won the British Masters last May at age 48, becoming the oldest first-time winner in European tour history. That got him into the U.S. Open, where he became the oldest player to share the 36-hole lead before a 77-78 weekend.

This World Golf Championship was never on his radar until he was runner-up in the Dubai Desert Classic, moving him to No. 53 in the world at the end of January, and he held his ground to get into the Match Play.

And then he earned a halve against Bryson DeChambeau, held off Talor Gooch and beat Westwood over three days to earn a spot in the fourth round against Johnson, who won the Match Play five years ago and has been playing some of his best golf in months.

Bland won’t be expected to win. What else is new?

“Oh, course, he’s the favorite,” Bland said. “That’s not being negative or anything like that. That’s just realistic. Everybody knows that. But if I play how I know I can play, I would like to think he’s got a game on his hands. So yeah, we’ll see. But I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Johnson says he knows a little about Bland and believes they were paired somewhere before, he just couldn’t remember where (if at all).

“I know it was a long time before he got his first win, but yeah, obviously he’s playing well. He’s playing well this week,” Johnson said. “So it’s going to be a tough match.”

Bland can’t explain how he is enjoying the fruits of good golf at this stage in his life. It was only three years ago that he had to spend a year on he Challenge Tour.

“It’s just my time. That’s all I can put it down to. I don’t know why,” he said. “But I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. I know it’s not going to last forever. That’s golf. But while it’s here, I’ve had enough of the ... it kicked me when I’m down, so while I’m up I’m going to enjoy it.”

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As for that Augusta trip, Bland He has played it a few times. His brother, Heath, was very ill a few years back and Bland was invited to return with his brother when his health improved. He got better, they made plans and then the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.

The last cancellation was his fault, which he happily accepts.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to now cancel it a couple of times, but we’ll get there,” he said.

Maybe for the Masters. Wouldn’t that be something?

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