Richard Bland wins second straight major, prevailing in Monday playoff at U.S. Senior Open

Richard Bland wins second straight major, prevailing in Monday playoff at U.S. Senior Open
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NEWPORT, R.I. — Richard Bland shot a 4-under 66 in the final round of the U.S. Senior Open, catching leader Hiroyuki Fujita after rain postponed the finish to Monday morning and then banging a chip shot off the pin to beat him on the fourth playoff hole and win his second straight senior major.

The Senior PGA champion gained five shots on Fujita in the final round, which was delayed by thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon with eight holes remaining. When the golfers returned to the par-70, 7,024-yard Newport Country Club on Monday, Fujita’s consistency — he hit 38 straight fairways in regulation before the rain delay — had abandoned him.

After both posted 13 under in regulation and matched scores in a two-hole, aggregate playoff and the first hole of sudden death, the golfers returned to the par-4, 466-yard 18th hole for the fourth time of the day. Bland’s shot from a greenside bunker caught the pin and settled two inches from the cup; Fujita missed a 25-footer to prolong the tournament, and Bland tapped in to claim his second senior major in as many tries.

“To get this one as well, to go two for two, is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Bland, who won the Senior PGA at Harbor Shores last month. “I was just hoping going into the PGA that I was good enough to contend; I hadn’t played against these guys. But to be here with two majors — I’m at a loss for words at the moment.”

Richard Green shot 71 and finished third, one stroke ahead of Steve Stricker. The 2019 champion and the runner-up in each of the last two years, Stricker shot 66 in each of the first three rounds but turned in a 73 in the fourth, making a bogey on the 72nd hole that dropped him into sole possession of fourth place.

Fujita had at least a share of the lead since shooting 63 in the opening round and he protected it with an unprecedented consistency: He hit 54 of 56 fairways in regulation — the most ever in a U.S. Senior Open. He returned to the course wearing the same-style shirt he had on Thursday, but everything else had changed.

The 5-foot-6 two-time MVP on the Japanese tour hit his very first shot on Monday morning into the rough, making bogeys on three of the first four holes after play resumed. Bland, who started the final round five strokes behind and still trailed by three when they returned after the delay, took the lead with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 and went to the 72nd hole with a chance to win in regulation.

But he drove his tee shot into a fairway bunker that wouldn’t even be in play if not for the stiff wind coming in from the sailing hotbed of Narragansett Bay. He made bogey, and when Fujita finished with a 71 they were were both at 13 under through 72 holes.

“We were chasing him all week. He had the lead pretty much wire-to-wire,” Bland said. “I made a great birdie on 15 to go one in front but kind of tripped over myself on the last.”

Bland would have more chances at the par-4, 466-yard 18th hole.

Three more, to be precise.

After both men went par-bogey on Nos. 10 and 18 in the two-hole playoff, they went back to the 18th tee; they would keep returning until it was settled. On their fourth hole, Bland put his approach into a greenside bunker but then saved par. Fujita rolled his last chance just inside the coin Bland had placed as a marker.

“I started the day with a three-shot lead. I didn’t play my best and got into a playoff,” Fujita said. “I definitely still played well, and I put together a good performance. It would have been better if I won. It’s a little disappointing I lost. However, I’m proud of myself.”

A member of the Saudi-funded LIV tour, Bland didn’t win on the European tour until his 478th start, at the age of 48. He only earned a spot in the U.S. Senior Open by winning the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores last month. He only got his spot in that one by winning the 2021 British Masters.

Now he is the third golfer to win his first two starts in senior majors, along with Arnold Palmer and Alex Cejka. He also joins 1995 U.S. Amateur champion Tiger Woods and 2006 U.S. Women’s Open winner Annika Sorenstam with a victory at Newport, one of the five founding members of the USGA.

“To be in that bracket, I’m probably doing a little disservice, to be honest with you,” Bland said. “To be in that kind of bracket is very, very special and something you can only dream of.”

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