LIV’s Bland wins Senior PGA in senior major debut

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Richard Bland had time off from LIV Golf and made it pay off in a major way Sunday when he won the Senior PGA Championship in his senior major debut, closing with an 8-under 63 for a 3-shot victory at Harbor Shores.

In a final round delayed by about an hour because of storms, Bland hit what amounted to the winning shot on the par-5 15th, an approach to 6 feet for eagle. That took him from 1 shot behind Greg Chalmers to a 1-shot lead when Chalmers could manage only a par.

The storms finally arrived, and the 51-year-old Bland returned to make three pars and claim his first victory since the 2021 British Masters, the European tour title that unwittingly started Bland on this amazing ride.

Bland did not realize until last year that the Senior PGA Championship offers a one-time exemption to players who have won on the European tour in the past five years. He couldn’t play because the Senior PGA was held the same week as LIV Golf Bedminster in New Jersey.

But he asked about this year, and the PGA of America provided the invitation.

“The British Masters was very special at 48,” Bland said. “This is right up there. I couldn’t be happier. I’m going to celebrate the hell out of this one.”

Richard Green shot 65 and took second place alone without ever having a serious of chance of winning.

That opportunity belonged to Chalmers, the left-handed Australian who had the lead with four holes to play. But he could make only that par on the 15th. He missed the green to the left on the 16th and took two shots to reach the green in making bogey, and then dropped another shot on the par-3 17th when he couldn’t save par from the bunker.

Chalmers also bogeyed the 18th and shot 68.

Jason Caron had the best finish by a club professional, posting a 66 to tie for fourth with Scott Hend (66). The disappointment belonged to Ernie Els, still without a senior major. He was tied for the 54-hole lead with Chalmers and shot 70 to tie for sixth.

This stage belonged to Bland, who got choked up during the trophy presentation thinking about his brother, Heath, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer just over a year ago and learned last week that he had cancer in the lungs.

“I just wanted to win for him so bad,” Bland said through tears.

Bland had to get past Chalmers in a terrific battle in which Chalmers was bogey-free with six birdies and Bland had eight birdies in 12 holes to offset two bogeys. And then the Englishman surged ahead with the eagle on the 15th, and no one could catch him.

And now Bland, who finished at 17-under 267, gets more golf than he imagined.

The victory makes him exempt for the U.S. Senior Open on June 27-30 at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, one week after Bland and his Cleeks team compete in LIV Golf Nashville.

Still unclear is what he will do after that. The PGA Tour has banned LIV Golf players. Bland is 25th on the LIV points list and still not guaranteed a spot in the Saudi-funded league next year.

“I don’t know how many doors this is going to open,” Bland said. “Obviously, I’m now committed to LIV.”

He has made $9.8 million since joining LIV Golf in June 2022. Bland at least knows he has the game for the 50-and-older set.

“This is my first event. I was interested to see if I brought my game how it would stack up against these guys,” he said. “Thankfully, it does.”

Defending champion Steve Stricker shot 68 and finished 7 shots behind in eighth place.

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