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U.S. Open second-round clubhouse leader Richard Bland
U.S. Open second-round clubhouse leader Richard Bland

Richard Bland, the Englishman who was a first-time winner at the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, shot to the top of the US Open leaderboard on Friday.

The 48-year-old enjoyed an emotional victory at the British Masters, held at The Belfry, and that helped to earn him a place in his fourth major championship.

He missed the cut on his one previous US Open appearance, in 2009, but this time at Torrey Pines there was no danger of that, with Bland storming into the clubhouse lead and expressing the hope he might remain in the hunt come the back nine on Sunday.

Bland followed an opening 70 with a 67 to reach five under par, and that put him one ahead of Russell Henley, who was yet to start his second round, with Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for third on three under. 

They too had yet to get under way. Louis Oosthuizen was also at three under through 14 holes, one over for his day.

Starting on the back nine, Bland began his second round with a birdie at the long par-four 10th and picked up three more shots by the turn, although he also gave two back.

Further gains at two, four and six moved Bland to six under, two clear of the field, but a dropped shot at eight meant his lead was trimmed.

When asked how he was feeling about his effort, Bland said: "Pretty good. Whenever you're leading in a major after 36 holes, you've got to be happy, especially at the US Open. To be five under, I'm over the moon."

Speaking on the Golf Channel, Bland said fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, both former world number one players, had been among those who had given him pointers before the tournament began. 

"I got some good information off Lee Westwood on Monday and Rosey on Wednesday. My coach Tim Barter, as well, gave me some notes. 

"But I've been driving the ball well for a while now and that's critical at a US Open, especially for someone like myself. I'm not one of the longer hitters. To hit fairways is more of a premium on a course this long.

"When I saw the course, it's set up pretty straight, it's all there in front of you, so if I kept driving it well I felt I could give myself chances."

Bland, who battled back from losing his European Tour card in 2018, admitted it would be impossible for him not to think about the prospect of landing a major.

"Of course, it's going to be pretty tough not to do that, but you look at the leaderboard and see the guys behind, and there's guys who have got a lot more on their CV than I have," Bland said.

"But I'm going to try to enjoy it, best I can. I'm here to compete and give it the best I've got and hopefully come the back nine on Sunday I'm there or thereabouts.

"That's all you can do, there's still 36 holes to go. Every hole is a potential disaster around here, but if I can keep doing what I'm doing I think I can be in there come Sunday."

He would not become the oldest major winner, of course, should Bland follow his efforts on the opening two days with a title push over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson owns that record, having won the US PGA Championship last month at the age of 50.

At his home course in San Diego this week, Mickelson began his USOpen effort with a four-over-par 75, meaning his prospects of adding this title to his collection to complete a career grand slam looked slim as he prepared to set out for his round on Friday. 

He was likely to need to shoot one or two under par to make the cut.

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