Richard Bland hopes to script Cinderella story at Match Play

Richard Bland hopes to script Cinderella story at Match Play
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AUSTIN, Texas – Richard Bland doesn’t fancy himself a basketball fan – he’s from the other U.K. – but he knows enough about the sport to appreciate the comparison. As 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s get set for its Sweet 16 matchup Friday night with Purdue on the hardwood, Bland is hoping for some March madness of his own at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Like the Peacocks, Bland, who last year wore a swan-logoed hat at the U.S. Open, is the ultimate flier.

“No one’s expecting me to get through,” Bland said Tuesday morning at Austin Country Club, where he’s competing as the No. 54 seed.

A few moments earlier, Bland had been hitting balls next to his first-day opponent, Bryson DeChambeau, who headlines a group that includes Bland, Talor Gooch and Lee Westwood. It wasn’t intentional – “I was here first,” Bland contended with a chuckle – but the scene offered a small preview of the juxtaposition that will be on display Wednesday.

It’s Bryson Ball vs. Bland Golf.

DeChambeau, though banged up, is a physical specimen whose power gains have been well documented. He’s got his own YouTube and TikTok crews, and he’s constantly tinkering with different ways to play the game.

Bland, who at 49 is 21 years older than DeChambeau, is a plodder, prefers pinot noir to protein shakes and is planning on qualifying for the PGA Tour Champions at year’s end. He’s had the same swing coach, Tim Barter, for decades, and it’s not uncommon for the two to go months without a lesson.

“We just keep things very, very simple,” Bland says. “I call it low maintenance. Tim always tells me, ‘I want you to make me redundant.’”

While DeChambeau owns a major championship among his eight career Tour victories, it took Bland until last year – and 478 starts – to break through on Europe’s highest circuit. DeChambeau averaged 323.7 yards off the tee last season, leading the Tour, while Bland, in limited starts, finished at 287.2.

When it comes to his game plan, Bland isn’t calling any kind of full-court press. Instead, he’s aiming to slow the pace and trying to win with small ball.

“I know I’m hitting my second shots in first tomorrow, and that’s fine,” Bland said. “I can’t get too drawn into what Bryson does. I’ve just gotta do what I do really well … I drive the ball a little bit shorter than he does, but I’d like to think that I’m going to be in play most of the time. And then when I get the scoring clubs in my hands, that’s where I’ve gotta be very good this week. Whenever I have a wedge in my hand, if I can get that in close and put some pressure on him, then who knows.

“We play two completely different games, but that’s the beauty of match play, isn’t it? He’s the favorite, of course he is, but he’s got a game on his hands.”

If Bland’s victory at the Betfred British Masters last May proved that he could win, his early contention at last summer’s U.S. Open – he held a share of the lead through 36 holes at Torrey Pines, the oldest to ever do so in that championship – demonstrated that he could contend on the biggest stages against the biggest stars.

He’ll likely need that giant-killing self-belief to navigate his way to Sunday’s final. For Bland, he’d settle for punching his ticket into the quarterfinals. At No. 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking, the Englishman believes he needs to make the final eight to climb into the top 50 and earn his first Masters invite.

Bland has never played Augusta National. He and his brother were invited two years ago by a member, but three days before they were set to fly in, the pandemic shuttered the country. They took a rain check and were supposed to cash that in this week – until last January when Bland lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland in Dubai and shot up the world rankings. “Sorry, bro,” Bland quipped.

Now, Bland is at this World Golf Championship with a chance to turn one round at Augusta National into four.

“I’ve just gotta enjoy it,” Bland said. “I have nothing to lose. Hopefully, if I can have a great week, there’s a chance of getting to Augusta.”

If he does that, Bland will be cutting down the metaphorical nets this weekend at Austin Country Club.


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