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Richard Bland defeats Hiroyuki Fujita in a playoff to Win the 2024 US Senior Open – News – Irish Golf Desk

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Thirty-five days ago, Richard Bland had no intention of teeing it up in the 44th U.S. Senior Open Championship at historic Newport Country Club.

The 51-year-old Englishman didn’t file an entry, and even after his remarkable debut on the 50-and-older circuit when he claimed the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship on May 26, Bland was unsure about coming to the Ocean State.

A few weeks later, he had a change of heart and it turned out to be a great decision.

Bland, who entered the final round five strokes back of 18-, 36-hole and 54-hole leader Hiroyuki Fujita, had closed the gap to three before weather halted play on Sunday afternoon, early in the final nine. Bland completed his charge on Monday morning, forging a tie with the frontrunner after 72 holes at 13-under 267. Bland’s 4-under-par 66 matched the second-lowest round of the day, while Fujita, who only had two bogeys through 64 holes, struggled after the restart with three bogeys over a four-hole stretch, leading to a 1-over 71.

After the pair matched scores for three playoff holes (two in a two-hole aggregate format and one sudden-death), Bland delivered one of the best bunker shots of his career on the fourth playoff hole as he nearly holed out for a 3, the ball hitting the flagstick and stopping inches away.

When Fujita, 55, of Japan, failed to convert his 20-foot par putt that curled just around the hole, all Bland had to do was tap in for his par to earn a second consecutive senior major title.

“I think this one’s going to take a little while [to sink in],” said Bland, the 12th player to win this championship in his debut and the second from England (Roger Chapman). “Your first two senior tournaments to be majors, and to come out on top … I was just hoping going into the [Senior] PGA that I was good enough to contend. I hadn’t played against these guys. 

“I knew if I played the way I know I can play, it should be good enough to be able to compete. But, yeah, to [stand] here with two majors is … I’m at a loss for words at the moment now.”

Bland joins Arnold Palmer (1980-81) and Alex Cejka (2021) as the only golfers to win in their first two senior major starts. Palmer claimed the Senior PGA Championship in December 1980 and followed up with the 1981 U.S. Senior Open victory in his first year of eligibility. Cejka won the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship.

Fujita was bidding to become the first male golfer from Japan to win a USGA title, but now joins countryman Isao Aoki (2001) as a bridesmaid in the U.S. Senior Open. Aoki was also the 1980 U.S. Open runner-up to Jack Nicklaus. Three Japanese females have claimed titles, including Yuka Saso earlier this year at the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally.

Fujita also is the first player since Jerry Kelly in 2018 to hold the lead after the first three rounds and not hoist the trophy.

“I started the day with a three-shot lead,” said Fujita, who made more bogeys in his final round (4) than he did in the previous three (1). “I didn’t play my best and got into a playoff. Definitely disappointed I didn’t hit the ball as well as I have all week.

“I had a lot of people rooting for me and watching in Japan. I was really hoping to take that trophy home.”

Australian lefty Richard Green also carded a final-round 71 to finish solo third at 10-under 270, one stroke ahead of 2019 champion Steve Stricker, whose 73 was his worst in a U.S. Senior Open round in four starts. The solo fourth finish by the 57-year-old from Madison, Wis., follows the win and back-to-back seconds in 2022 and 2023.

Thongchai Jaidee (67) and Bob Estes (70) shared fifth at 8-under 282, with Vijay Singh (66) solo seventh (273). Ernie Els (65), Stephen Ames (68) and Paul Stankowski (71) rounded out the top 10, sharing eighth at 274.

Padraig Harrington tied for 16th on three-under after a closing 71 with Darren Clarke tied for 42nd on two-over after a 71.

Because of Sunday’s two-hour fog delay and afternoon storms, the championship required its first regulation Monday finish since 2016 at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. More than a half-inch of rain fell on the property, requiring yeoman’s work by Newport superintendent Chris Coen, his staff of 16 and 20 volunteers to get this classic venue playable for the 8 a.m. EDTrestart on Monday.

Bland was on the 11th green when play was halted on Sunday at 3:01 p.m., and playing in the threesome ahead of Fujita, Stricker and Green, recognized quickly on Monday that Fujita was showing his first sign of nerves. He missed only his second fairway of the week on No. 11, leading to just his third bogey. He then lipped out a short par putt on 12 and bogeyed 14. Meanwhile, Bland recovered from a bogey on the 234-yard par-3 13th by making a 15-footer on 14 for birdie and stuffing his approach on 15 to 3 feet to take the outright lead.

But on the challenging 473-yard 18th hole, which played into the wind on Monday morning, Bland found the fairway cross bunker and eventually made a clutch 8-footer for bogey to fall back into a tie at 13 under. Fujita steadied himself with pars on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and had a 40-footer for birdie on 18 to win that stopped just short of the hole.

That led to the first U.S. Senior Open aggregate playoff since 2014 when Colin Montgomerie edged Gene Sauers by a stroke in what was then a three-hole affair.

Fujita tied Bland on No. 10 with a clutch par putt from 6 feet. Each parred 18 as well, sending the players back to the closing hole. This time, each made bogey – Bland hitting his approach well right of the green and Fujita finding a greenside bunker to the left of the putting surface. But in the second go-around, Bland’s 214-yard approach with a hybrid found the same left-greenside bunker, while Fujita came up short from 259 yards.

Fujita’s pitch stopped 15 feet away, leading to Bland’s shot of the week. The ball took one hop, hit the flagstick and somehow stayed out of the hole.

“It wasn’t that tough of a shot,” said Bland of his third on the fourth playoff hole. “My main aim was just to get it right because he had, what, 20 feet across the slope. He’s got to know that I’m making 4. That was my objective there. If I can get this as close as I possibly can, so it puts the pressure on him that he now knows he’s got to hole it.

“An unbelievable [par] putt [by Fujita]. Four feet out, yeah, I’m thinking I’m going back down to the 18th tee again. It couldn’t miss. Fortunate enough for me, it stayed on the top side. Yeah, two inches to win at the U.S. [Senior] Open, I can handle those.”

When he converted the tap-in, an emotional Bland raised both fists and enjoyed a congratulatory bear hug with his caddie, James Walton.

Bland has enjoyed quite a renaissance the past three years. A journeyman since turning professional in 1996, Bland waited until his 478th start on the European Tour (now DP World Tour) to collect his maiden victory at the 2022 Betfred British Masters, becoming the oldest first-time champion in circuit history at 48. A year earlier, he shared the 36-hole lead with Jon Rahm in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, eventually settling for a share of 50th in his third-ever major-championship start.

Because he joined LIV Golf in 2022, Bland has been ineligible for PGA Tour Champions events. He received a sponsor’s exemption from the PGA of America into last month’s Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich., and took full advantage, edging Green by three strokes.

That week, Bland found out that his brother, Heath, had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been battling health issues for several years, including recent surgery for bowel cancer.

“We had some good news that it’s not going to be hugely invasive surgery,” said Bland of his brother’s condition. “It’s only going to be keyhole, and it’s going to be only an overnight stay. When he had his surgery three, four months ago for his bowel cancer, he was in hospital for nearly six weeks, and it was a 15-hour operation.

“We’re just praying that hopefully that once this is gone, that’s it for him. You hear the statistics that it’s kind of one in every two people get it, and you always kind of think, you know what, it won’t happen to us. When it does, it’s like a train wreck. It’s an absolute train wreck.”

One thing is for sure, Bland will be at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club for next year’s U.S. Open, a perk for winning the U.S. Senior Open. There won’t be a hesitation once entries open next February. He also can play in the next 10 U.S. Senior Opens.

“I’ll be looking at flights to Oakmont for next year,” said Bland, “very, very soon.”

What the Champion Receives

-A gold medal
-Custody of the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy for one year
-Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Senior Open Championships
-Exemption into the 125th U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club
-First-place check for $800,000
-Name engraved on the 2024 USGA Champions’ plaque that will be displayed in the Hall of Champions at the USGA Museum in Liberty Corner, N.J.

Notable

The top 15 scorers and ties earn exemptions into the 2025 U.S. Senior Open Championship at The Broadmoor (East Course) in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26-29. Among that group was qualifier Cameron Percy, who tied for 14th at 4-under 276. Percy got into the field as an alternate from the Brooklyn Park, Minn., qualifier, where he lost a 2-for-1 playoff to Steve Stricker’s brother-in-law, Mario Tiziani, for the lone spot.

Led by Ernie Els’ 65, there were 23 sub-par scores recorded in the final round. That matched the Round 4 totals from 1992 (Saucon Valley C.C.) and 2015 (Del Paso C.C.) and is two off the record from 2009 at Crooked Stick Golf Club. The 117 sub-par rounds for the week ranked second all-time behind Inverness Club (128), in 2011. A total of 29 players finished 72 holes under par, seven off the record set in 2011 and ranks fourth all-time.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer wound up in a tie for 42nd at 2-over 282.

Rhode Island natives Billy Andrade and Brett Quigley, the 1987 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, finished T-31 and T-42, respectively. Andrade posted even-par 280, two ahead of Quigley.

Jay Haas, 70, of Greer, S.C., surpassed World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson for the most times completing 72 holes in the U.S. Senior Open with 18. Haas, a member of the 1975 USA Walker Cup Team, has never missed a cut in this championship (18 for 18).

NBC/Golf Channel on-course reporter Roger Maltbie celebrated his 73rd birthday on Sunday. He also celebrated his 55th birthday at Newport Country Club during the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open.

Lee Westwood and Thongchai Jaidee each registered eagle 2s on par-4 holes on Sunday. Westwood, who started on No. 10, made his deuce on the 348-yard 12th, while Jaidee posted his 2 on the 321-yard second.

Three-time Olympian swimmer and Rhode Island native Elizabeth Beisel visited Newport C.C. on Sunday. Beisel will work the upcoming Summer Olympics for NBC as an interviewer for the swimming competition. She took home a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley in the 2012 London Games and a bronze in the 200-meter backstroke.

USGA CEO Mike Whan served as a volunteer scorer for the Justin Leonard, Paul Broadhurst and Grant Hutcheon group for the Monday resumption. Due to the unexpected extra day of play, additional volunteers were needed to assist as walking scorers.

This was the second time a USGA championship at Newport C.C. went to a playoff. World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam defeated Pat Hurst in an 18-hole Monday playoff to claim the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open.

The four playoff holes was the second-longest since the U.S. Senior Open stopped using an 18-hole playoff. In 2002, Don Pooley needed five holes to defeat Tom Watson. Pooley remains the only qualifier to win this championship.

Quotable

“It’s up there. When everything’s on the line, you’ve always got to think that he’s going to hole that putt. Obviously, it does creep into your mind, right, if I get this up-and-down there’s a good chance that I’m U.S. [Senior] Open champion. I just wanted to be just fully committed to it. I didn’t want to kind of just hit the sort of duff-and-run shot. It was one that I can be aggressive with. I probably knew it was going to spin…It came out perfect.” – Richard Bland on final bunker shot

“I’m a way better golfer than I was back [in 2021], but I think that’s the caliber of players that I’m playing against on LIV. To play against Bryson [DeChambeau], who just won the [U.S. Open] at Pinehurst, to play against him, to play against Jon Rahm, Cam Smith, D.J. (Dustin Johnson), Brooks [Koepka], they’re the best players in the world. I don’t care what the world ranking says. If I’m going to compete with those guys, I have to bring my game. I have to. I can’t bring my C game, and it won’t stack up against those. It just elevates my game, and I think it’s done that unbelievably over the last three years.” — Bland

“Whenever you get to play a U.S. Open, it was my first ever tournament in America at Bethpage in ’09, and I was just blown away by it. We’re always kind of like, oh, being from Europe or from the UK, our major is The Open, but I was blown away by the U.S. Open. It’s my second tournament to play in apart from an Open. I love the challenge that you guys set. I learned so much over that weekend [at Torrey Pines in 2021]. It didn’t go my way, but I’m not the first guy that’s had a bad weekend in a U.S. Open; I’m sure I won’t be the last. And that’s helped put me to where I am today. I’ll be looking at flights to Oakmont for next year very, very soon.” — Bland

“The wind was a little different today. It was the first time I’ve played Newport with this kind of wind. So I was definitely a little uneasy about that, and you can see the results out there, that some of the shots weren’t what I wished they were.” – Hiroyuki Fujita

“Incredible. One of the best courses I ever played. I would love to hopefully have another event here before I retire.” – Bob Estes

“I’ve been pretty lucky over the years staying pretty healthy and just being able to compete for as long as I have. I still enjoy that part of it, the competition, trying to hit good shots when I need to. I don’t do it nearly as often as I would like. But I managed to play well in this tournament each time, and good enough to make the cut and contend a few times early in my 50s. From the first U.S. Junior I played in Spokane, Washington [in 1969] … USGA tournaments have held a special place for me.” – Jay Haas on surpassing Tom Watson for the most times completing 72 holes in the U.S. Senior Open

“Simply amazing. Just everything that I imagined would happen happened. It was just an unbelievable course, setting, Rhode Island, Newport. It just makes me feel very proud to be a Rhode Islander.” – Billy Andrade

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