Everybody on the Bland-wagon!

Cameron Morfit, PGA Tour

Golf has a way of returning to a man, again and again.

Richard Bland, who got his first win in his 478th start on the DP World Tour last year, and is currently peaking at 49, could tell you all about it. And he knows his late-in-the-game rise has reverberated far beyond the yellow, nylon gallery ropes.

“Yeah, obviously the messages that I get from people that, all over the globe, over the last 12 months, has been incredible,” Bland said after beating Lee Westwood 2 and 1 at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Friday. “People that you never will ever meet, and they tell me their kind of story that what I’ve done has inspired them to carry on their journey. They were losing a little bit of hope, and am I going down right path, and it’s given them that extra sort of belief that they are on the right path.

“And that’s – reading them is quite emotional,” Bland continued. “I will always keep them. Whenever this phone gets sort of upgraded or whatever, all those messages will stay forever.”

Bland has a lot of silver in his 5 o’clock shadow, but who gets to say when it’s finally too late? In a sense, the action Friday, as Bland dispatched his old English boys’ teammate Westwood to set up a knockout-round match against Dustin Johnson, was a microcosm of Bland’s whole career. That is, things looked shaky – until they didn’t. But that’s golf. It serves up the same shot that just left a bad taste, the same tournament that slipped away last year, until a man either gets it right or quits.

It was slipping away as Bland missed putts of 7 feet and 9 feet at the 13th and 15th holes, respectively, allowing Westwood to close the gap. Finally, though, when he could afford no more lapses, Bland coaxed in an 8-foot birdie putt on 16 to preserve a 1-up lead. Then he drained a 32-foot birdie on 17 to defeat Westwood 2 and 1 and advance.

A moth flitted just above the ball as it made its way to the hole on the decisive putt, and when it dropped, golf’s most unlikely new Cinderella pumped his fist – Bland fury! – and waited for Westwood to line up his own birdie try from 21 feet. It slid by.

Bland, who got an exemption into next week’s Valero Texas Open and is trying to play his way into the world top 50 and his first Masters in two weeks (he’s 60th), was moving on. He is the oldest player to win his group since this format began in 2015, topping Phil Mickelson, who was 46 when he advanced to the knockout rounds in 2017.

The new darling of Austin, Bland has increasingly enviable problems. He and his wife, Catrin, were supposed to be headed to New York to celebrate her 40th birthday, but that will have to wait. She’s flying from England to Austin and is expected to be here by Saturday night. They will be in San Antonio for the Valero next week, and possibly Augusta, Georgia, after that.

Bland’s life has utterly transformed since his playoff win at the Betfred British Masters last year. Since then, he’s had a share of the lead through two rounds at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines (fading to finish T50) and lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland at the Dubai Desert Classic in January. More than two decades into his career, he is, somewhat inexplicably, peaking. He’s getting into tournaments, like this one, that once went on without him. How to explain it? He has no idea.

“I’m not doing anything different,” he said.

He still uses the same mismatched set of clubs, some of them a decade old. He still has the same coach, and still laces up his boots and puts his head down and just gets on with it. Success, though, has finally gotten in the way.

“I guess probably someone at 49 shouldn’t be doing this for the first time,” he said.

But in the next breath he says if a man stays fit and takes care of himself, why not?

“Never,” he said, when asked if he’d doubted himself. “Even when I lost my card in 2018, I always kind of thought one year doesn’t make you a bad player, you don’t become a bad player overnight. Not when you’ve played on the European Tour for 15 plus years. So yeah, I knew what was in front of me going back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old.”

When was the last time Bland hit a 400-plus-yard drive, like Johnson, his next opponent?

“Probably never,” Bland said, “but it’s going to be fun. Of course, he’s favorite. Yeah, I’m not, 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,” he added, “I would like to think he’s got a game on his hands.”

Counting Bland’s Irish caddie, Greg Milne, and his caddie’s kid brother, Rory, who plays college golf in Louisiana, there were four people on the Bland-wagon for this rousing run. The other two: Bland’s brother, Heath, who nearly died from a virus in 2018 and has come all the way back, and his brother’s best friend, Tim.

Golf has returned to Bland; life itself has returned to his brother.

To mark Heath’s incredible recovery – “He died twice,” Bland said – the brothers were supposed to play Augusta National in 2020. Like so much else during the worst of the pandemic, the trip got canceled. They were supposed to play again this week. That, too, got canceled when Bland did enough to punch his ticket to Austin.

“That’s my bad, that one,” he said, laughing.

Bland also laughed at the vagaries of the Official World Golf Ranking. “I didn’t play for three weeks, and I think I went up seven spots,” he said. “So, I was kind of thinking, well, if I don’t play for the rest of the year, I might be world No. 1.”

The line got a big reaction, but why not? Less than a year shy of PGA TOUR Champions eligibility, Bland is on the kind of rise that would confound even TopTracer. He never lost hope, he’s going down the right path, and whether or not it gets him to Augusta, the other guys have got a game on their hands.

The Bland-wagon rolled into Austin and busted heads in the group stage of the Dell Match Play making him the oldest to do so… talk about inspiring! If you don’t love a story like this you make need to check your pulse because this is a pure gold narrative. When Bland won the British Masters at 48 he became an instant hero, then he nearly won the big one in Dubai. His persistence is truly remarkable and that couldn’t have been more evident than when he played the Challenge Tour at 46 years old. That circuit travels the globe in a very wild way… one year I played an event in Colombia finishing 4th and they asked if I wanted to play the next event. “Where is the event going to played?” Kenya. “Find a food that doesn’t make you sick and eat it every chance you get” I was told. Thanks I’ll head back to the Hooters Ture.

Richard Bland is a pillar of perseverance and should be applauded for his efforts. This type of story is what I love about golf, you don’t have to win or show some kind of Tiger-like dominance to captivate the minds of golf fans everywhere. Don’t get me wrong though Bland is heading home with a boat load of cash, but he’s been earning this week since he teed off on the Challenge Tour a few years ago. His patience and never-ending belief in himself is something we all can take to the bank. I know I will

Power Rankings: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

Rob Bolton, PGA Tour

POWER RANKINGS: WGC-DELL TECHNOLOGIES MATCH PLAY

RANK PLAYER COMMENT
16 Brian Harman Brian Harman
The short miss on the 72nd hole of Copperhead that turned a solo fifth into a T5 aside, he’s 2-for-2 in advancing to the Round of 16. Arguably in the best form of his opening foursome.
15 Talor Gooch Talor Gooch
Snuck in at the buzzer last year, he’s now a fixture inside the top 64 of the OWGR at 32nd. Second in the all-around and no longer slowed by what was his last weakness to overcome – inexperience.
14 Jordan Spieth Jordan Spieth
No shortage of experience in his opening foursome, but the Texan has the most recent success at Austin CC. Of course, this positions him to face old pal, JT, in the Round of 16.
13 Billy Horschel Billy Horschel
Returning from an illness, the defending champ opens in one of the three pools with as many as two first-timers. Poised to draw the man he defeated for the 2021 title, Scottie Scheffler.
12 Sungjae Im Sungjae Im
Slotted in one of the most diverse Group Stages, he’s the disruption that no one wants to face. Profiles as and possesses the receipts of a scorer in a format that rewards it. “Im”-defatigable!
11 Xander Schauffele Xander Schauffele
As consistently strong as ever despite winless drought. He’s never advanced from the Group Stage, but he’s benefited by drawing a pair of first-timers and the slumping Tony Finau.
10 Viktor Hovland Viktor Hovland
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he won the whole thing, so this is a compromise between him surviving the Group Stage and running into the buzzsaw that can be Russell Henley’s putter.
9 Jon Rahm Jon Rahm
World’s top-ranked talent is tops on TOUR in SG: Off-the-Tee and greens hit, but there will be more pressure on his average putting than usual. He’s 2-for-4 in escaping the Group Stage.
8 Russell Henley Russell Henley
In four prior starts, he’s failed to advance to the Round of 16, but the 32-year-old is in his prime, and he’s been performing like it for 19 months now. No. 1 in SG: Approach-the-Green.
7 Dustin Johnson Dustin Johnson
Wild card among the elite. He’s one of the five winners at Austin CC (2017). Went 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup in 2021. Tied the course record at TPC Sawgrass with a closing 63 for a T9.
6 Collin Morikawa Collin Morikawa
Among champion Billy Horschel’s early victims in his debut here last year. As powerful and dynamic a performer that Morikawa is, this ranking might not be high enough.
5 Scottie Scheffler Scottie Scheffler
Dismissed all concerns for debutants with a runner-up finish in his foray last year. Can avenge the defeat in the Round of 16 this week. Two wins in last four starts upon arrival.
4 Paul Casey Paul Casey
He’s been a force in this event for 15 years and he’s continued to populate leaderboards of late. Rested since a solo third at THE PLAYERS, his fifth top 25 in six starts worldwide in 2022.
3 Shane Lowry Shane Lowry
If you’re in pursuit of the hungriest, he’s essentially in the zone right now with seven consecutive top 25s worldwide over the last four months; five are top 15s. Doing it all tee to cup.
2 Daniel Berger Daniel Berger
Hasn’t emerged from Group Stage in all four prior tries, but the TOUR’s leader in scrambling also is ninth in SG: Tee-to-Green and second in bogey avoidance. Rock-solid everywhere.
1 Justin Thomas Justin Thomas
His T3 at the Valspar Championship was his fifth top five in official competition in seven months. Leads the PGA TOUR in the all-around, bogey avoidance and par-4 scoring.

The Tour’s March Madness has arrived and it’s such an nice change from the usual 72 hole events. I watched Tiger’s comeback in 2008 the last four holes when he faced JB Holmes last night and got goosebumps, and who can’t forget his destruction of Stephen Ames after he said, “Tiger is as beatable as ever”.  Ames went on to lose 9 and 8 which is the most brutal defeat ever in this event. I miss u TW.

Greg Norman spear-headed this WGC collection of events back in 1993 but he wanted it to be a completely separate ture. He failed miserably in that particular venture but it morphed into the worldwide talent show-case we see now. Head-to-head matches that include the top-64 players in the world is a great idea. Watching them battle it out in this format is as unpredictable as March Madness’s 1st round this year. I’m personally rooting for Russell Henley to make a deep run into this event as he has been trending and is flushing his irons. DJ is a match play powerhouse so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him dominate like he did at the Ryder Cup last year. Xander hasn’t had the success you would expect in this event and I attribute it to the venue… if they were still playing this event in Arizona his bombs off the tee would be a lock for advancing through the opening foursome stage. Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland are balling per usual and due for a victory seeing their current form. Fun event to watch. Stay Ture.