LiveScore’s golf expert Matthew Hill brings you up to speed on a pair of emotional victories in this week’s On The Tee.
Anything but Bland
Rarely does a European Tour event garner more global attention than the flagship action going on Stateside — but the 2021 British Masters delivered a feel-good story for the ages on Saturday afternoon.
Those trying to pick a winner beforehand at The Belfry could have been forgiven for overlooking the familiar face of Richard Bland, who arrived at the 478th event of his professional life without a single tournament victory on his CV.
Bland, 48, turned pro all the way back in 1996 and won his senior tour card in 2002, embarking on what has been a solid but unspectacular career spanning four different decades.
In what many would consider the twilight of his golfing life, a maiden trophy had long looked a forlorn hope — but clearly Bland had not read the script.
Placed three shots behind overnight leader Eddie Pepperell going into Saturday’s finale, a marvellous round of 67 saw him rise to the top of a stacked leaderboard before he nervelessly edged out Italian Guido Migliozzi in a one-hole playoff to seal the most emotional of successes.
Holding back the tears, Bland began to reflect on his achievement shortly after holing that long-awaited winning putt, with long-time coach Tim Barter on interview duties for Sky Sports.
He said: "I can’t believe it. It’s hard to put it into words. I’ve done it!
"My game has been trending in the right direction. I’ve worked so hard on the wedges, really hard.
"I drove the ball really well this week, too. I’ve gone back to my old driver and it’s done the trick.
"I’m not the longest hitter on the tour by any stretch, so I’ve got to hit fairways. I think I only missed probably single-digits fairways this week and if I did miss them, it was only by a few inches.
"I had a good week last week and a top-10 finish in Gran Canaria, so I knew I was coming here in pretty good shape."
Far away from the glitz and glamour of competing for titles, Bland’s journey is one that largely goes untold in the column inches — a solid pro fighting tooth and nail just to keep afloat.
In fact, Burton-born Bland has even had to bounce back from losing his European Tour card on multiple occasions.
If at first you don’t succeed … @blandy73 Richard Bland has just won the British Masters at 48 years old, his first ever win. 478 tournaments as a professional. Everyone on the European Tour cheering him on. Much weeping. Terrific. And now for the FA Cup. 🦊— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) May 15, 2021
As recently as 2019, he was forced to go through the notoriously brutal Challenge Tour to win back his spot at the top table, doing so in impressive fashion.
He added: "I was 46 at the time. I wasn’t there to make friends. No disrespect to the other players but I just got my head down and had a job to do, to get back to where I felt I belonged."
That decision and his dogged perseverance has now been rewarded in sensational fashion, with a cheque for over £300,000 and a two-year exemption meaning he will have plenty of opportunities to also find a second victory
Signing off with a teary-eyed video call to his family, Bland already had one eye on the future. He said: “I’ll be round for roast lamb dinner on Tuesday, Mum!"
Glee for Lee
Over in the States, there was yet more unexpected celebrations as South Korea’s KH Lee broke his winning duck on the PGA Tour at the AT+T Byron Nelson on Sunday.
In similar fashion to Bland, 29-year-old Lee started his final day three shots behind leader Sam Burns but soon hit the front after playing the first eight holes at five under par.
Tee times had been moved forward due to the looming threat of adverse weather later in the day and the rain arrived as the leaders reached the second half of their concluding rounds.
After playing through the drizzle for roughly an hour, a lightning strike prompted a two-hour suspension in play with Lee three strokes ahead of Burns and only three holes remaining.
Upon resuming, Lee bogeyed the 16th but brilliant back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 got him over the line for a three-shot success.
K.O. Lee. 👊— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 16, 2021
A beauty and a birdie at 17 sends K.H. Lee to 18 with a 3-shot lead. pic.twitter.com/lFnxjOmwR8
Speaking after his triumph, Lee admitted he had tried to keep himself distracted during the weather-related interlude.
He said: "I didn’t want to look at any scoreboards when we stopped. I just tried to chill out and relax a bit.
"I actually dried my shirt off! Then just tried to come back out and play the three holes like normal. I had a good finish.
"I can’t believe the putting. I changed putter this week and it helped me a lot. I love that putter now!
"Before I thought that if I win, I would be crying. But now, I feel too excited. In my head I am close to crying but really, it’s just excitement. An unbelievable feeling."
Going into Sunday, it looked as though Burns would pick up exactly where he had left off when winning the Valspar Championship a fortnight ago.
The 24-year-old put in another brutal scoring display to sit clear at 17 under par at the halfway mark but could only add a further five shots across the weekend — still proving good enough for second place.
Alongside Lee, Burns heads to next week’s Major championship in a good frame of mind.
He said: "I think the biggest thing for me is just knowing my game is in a good place. It's in a good spot, enough to where I think I can contend.
"So that's cool for me, just to see some results for some of the stuff I been working on back home. All in all, a great week."
All eyes on Kiawah Island
For the second time in 2021, it is Major week as Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course plays host to the 103rd edition of the US PGA Championship.
A track crafted on a devilishly high perch across the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, any kind of challenging weather conditions will make it an extremely stern test for the 155-strong field heading to South Carolina.
Following his recent win at the Wells Fargo Championship, Rory McIlroy will be relishing a return to the venue where he romped to a merciless eight-stroke victory as a fresh-faced 23-year-old back in 2012.
There are plenty of other fairytales to be written this week, however, with the re-emerging Jordan Spieth, new father John Rahm and defending champ Colin Morikawa all hoping to add a magical chapter of their own to the tournament’s long roll of honour.
Keep your eyes peeled for LiveScore’s tournament preview, which will land on Tuesday afternoon.