LIV's Richard Bland stays on top at Senior PGA Championship

LIV's Richard Bland stays on top at Senior PGA Championship

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Richard Bland is hitting it so well he felt he struggled on the greens of Harbor Shores and still managed a 5-under 66 on Friday to set the target at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in the Englishman’s senior major debut.

Bland, who won his first European tour title at 48 and joined Saudi-funded LIV Golf a year later, was at 12-under 130. He played in the morning wave before an afternoon delay because of potentially dangerous weather.

Scott Dunlap was a stroke back, and Chris DiMarco was three shots behind. They each shot 65 in their morning rounds.

Hall of Famer Ernie Els was 8 under, closing his afternoon round with a bogey on the par-4 ninth for a 64. He birdied five of his first six holes, then had three birdies in a four-hole stretch on his final nine.

“I played really great for 17 holes and just my last hole pulled it left and it went close to the hazard,” Els said.

Brain Gay also was 8 under, shooting 67.

Defending champion Steve Stricker, who had never played at Harbor Shores, was five strokes behind Bland at 7 under after a 69.

Stewart Cink (68), Mike Weir (69), Joakim Haeggman (66) and Richard Green (71) also were 7 under. Green was tied with Bland for the first-round lead after a 64.

Iowa instructor Jeffrey Schmid topped the club professionals, following an opening 66 with a 71 to remain 5 under.

“I let a lot get away today,” Schmid said. “It was disappointing. But then I came back and shot even par, too.”

Bland was exempt to play the Senior PGA Championship last year under a category for players winning European tour events in the last five years — he won the British Masters at age 48 in 2021. But last year’s Senior PGA was the same week as LIV Golf Bedminster.

With no conflict this year, he inquired about cashing in on the one-time exemption and the PGA of America offered him an invitation.

Bland has been leaning on his driving accuracy, even as he waits for his putter to warm up on the tricky Jack Nicklaus-designed greens.

He made his first bogey on the par-4 fourth when he failed to get up-and-down, and Bland considers the next hole key to his round — all because of a fly.

“As I was hitting my tee shot — literally as I was starting my downswing — a fly came straight across the ball,” Bland said. “I saw it and I hit it in the left trap. For that hole, I would’ve been reaching that, especially with it being downwind and off the right. I could have probably hit maybe even iron into that hole today.”

Instead, he had to lay up and then managed to get up-and-down from 130 yards for birdie.

“That was good to get the momentum back straight after the bogey on 4,” Bland said. “That was pretty important.”

Dunlap, who won earlier this year on the PGA Tour Champions, was challenging for the lead with seven birdies until he lost a scoring opportunity by making bogey on the par-5 16th. He still posted a 65 and was not in the mood to complain.

“That’s as good of golf as I’ve got,” Dunlap said. “Obviously, I won recently, so got a little bit of confidence, maybe figured a few things out. But my track record around here has been a little wanting, so I guess maybe I hadn’t used up any of good golf. It’s kind of all come out in these two rounds. See what we have left in the tank for the final two.”

DiMarco’s highlight was holing out a bunker shot on the par-5 10th for eagle. Miguel Angel Jimenez aced the par-3 second for his 15th competitive hole-in-one. He was 4 under after a 68.

Champions career victory leader Bernhard Langer made the cut on the number at 3 over with rounds of 74 and 71.

Two players were unable to finish the round because of darkness.