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Bland posts 66, leads Senior PGA in senior major debut

BENTON HARBOR (AP) – Richard Bland is hitting it so well he felt he struggled on the greens of Harbor Shores and still managed a five-under 66 on Friday to set the target at the 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 eight under, closing his afternoon round with a bogey on the par-four 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.

Brain Gay also was eight under, shooting 67.

Richard Bland. PHOTO: AP

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

Stewart Cink, Mike Weir, Joakim Haeggman and Richard Green also were seven 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 five under. 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-four fourth when he failed to get up-and-down, and Bland considers the next hole key to his round – all because of a fly.

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

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-five 16th. He still posted a 65 and was not in the mood to complain.

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

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

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