Green, LIV’s Bland tied for Senior PGA lead

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Richard Bland, on a break from his LIV Golf schedule to make his senior major championship debut, made the most of it Thursday with a 7-under 64 to share the lead with Richard Green of Australia in the Senior PGA Championship.

Green played in the morning and posted three birdies and an eagle on the par 5s at Harbor Shores. Bland had a chance to pass him late in the afternoon until he had to scramble for par on No. 8 after a rare bad tee shot, and failed to birdie the par-5 ninth.

They were two shots clear of a group that included defending champion Steve Stricker.

Bland wasn’t sure he would be in any of the senior majors. The PGA of America offers a one-time exemption to anyone who has won on the European tour over the last five years; Bland became a first-time winner at the 2021 British Masters at age 48.

The Englishman couldn’t take the exemption last year because the Senior PGA was the same week as LIV Golf Bedminster in New Jersey. But he was able to use it this year.

“Completely out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said of the one-time exemption. “Unfortunately I couldn’t play it – clashed with a LIV event. And then when I looked at the schedule this year, I saw that it was a free week.”

He said he asked the PGA of America if the invitation was still good, and he was on his way.

“I’m very grateful for the invite and hopefully I can do something with it,” Bland said.

He is one of the three players on LIV Golf in their 50s, joining Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson. Bland has one top 10 on LIV this year and is 24th on the money list with just under $1.9 million – nearly $700,000 more than Steven Alker, who leads the Charles Schwab Cup on the PGA Tour Champions.

Bland has the game for Harbor Shores, mainly his accuracy off the tee, and that helped to keep bogeys off his card. He didn’t miss a fairway until his 17th hole, the par-4 eighth.

“I drove the ball really well, which is a strength of mine, which you need around here,” he said.

Green already was off to a quick start when he hit hybrid from about 250 yards on the par-5 fifth hole to set up eagle.

“Hit it just perfect and just shaped it in there nicely and it was tracking towards the hole,” Green said. “I think it ran across the edge of the hole and finished about maybe 7 feet past the hole. So that was obviously one of those exceptional holes at the right time to get the round going really well.”

He added birdies on three more par 5s to offset his lone bogey at No. 6.

Stricker had never seen Harbor Shores until this week and felt uncomfortable with some of the sight lines off the tee. He still managed seven birdies, his round slowed by a double bogey on the par-4 16th when he pulled his tee shot into a hazard.

“We’ve got a long ways to go, but it was important to get off to a good start,” he said. “I’m surprised the scores are that low.”

Mike Weir, K.J. Choi, Scott Dunlap and club pro Jeffrey Schmid joined Stricker at 5-under 66. Two-time PGA champion Vijay Singh, who chose not to play at Valhalla last week, and Stewart Cink were among those at 67.

Bernhard Langer, riding in a cart as he tries to fully recover from a torn Achilles tendon in February, opened with a 74. He was at 1 under for his round until a double bogey-bogey-bogey finish. Langer said he hopes to be back to walking 18 holes in a few more months.


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