KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Another good day for scoring leaves Bland in front at KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 24, 2024


Jeff Babineau

May 24, 2024

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Richard Bland’s golf game hardly lives up to his surname. As pure ball-strikers go, there are few in this week’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship field that consistently match his prowess. Bland? His game is hardly that.

Competing in his first senior event, the 51-year-old Bland was on his game tee-to-green on Friday at Harbor Shores, inching his way into the solo lead at the championship’s midway point. The Englishman shot a breezy 5-under 66 on Friday, and he takes a one-shot lead over recent Champions Tour winner Scott Dunlap (65) into the weekend.

Had the putter cooperated just a little better for Bland, he might have been able to put a little distance between himself and the field, but that’s just work he left behind to tidy up on the weekend. Bland made six birdies against a lone bogey to get to 12-under 130 at Harbor Shores. He and Dunlap were the only two players in the field to get to double-digits under par on a day when rain interrupted play for about 90 minutes shortly after the afternoon groups were all on the golf course.

Certainly the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship leaderboard is an interesting one, with plenty of veteran and accomplished performers ready to give chase to Bland, who plays on the LIV Golf tour, over the next 36 holes. It includes Dunlap, 60, who two weeks ago won the rain-shortened Insperity Invitational in Houston, his first victory in a decade; former Florida Gators Chris DiMarco (65) and Brian Gay (67), each seeking a first win on PGA Tour Champions; and hard-charging Ernie Els, who leaped into the mix with a 64, tying the week’s best round.

Els was sizzling through 17 holes and had a chance to tie the championship’s low single-round scoring mark (62) with a birdie on his final hole, the 576-yard 9th, which was yielding plenty of them. But Els made his worst swing of the day, his tee ball finishing in a hazard, his round finishing with a bogey-6. It was disappointing, but only one bad swing in a round that had plenty of great ones from the strong South African.

A day after needing to birdie his final two holes just to finish under par for the day, Els came out hot from the start, making birdies at five of his first six holes. He was cookin’. All of his great play made the poor finish easier to accept.

“It's a lot better than where I was yesterday,” said Els, who is seeking his first senior major. “Even with that bogey on 9 (his last), I'm where I want to be. You know, I can kind of be seeing what the leader is doing tomorrow and hopefully I have a good round. He (Bland) is playing good. All the guys are playing well.”

DiMarco, 55, is alone in third at 9-under 133, three back, with Gay and Els one shot behind him, trailing Bland by four. Bland made six birdies against a single bogey, and felt he could have had more if his speed on the greens had been better. He figured he only made about 50 feet of putts in the entire round, which means he was stuffing it close with his irons. So after playing, he was headed to the practice green.

“Yeah, tee to green, there are no issues there,” said Bland, who won his first DP World title of his career (2021 British Masters) well into his 40s. “If I can just get the putter warmed up a little bit, hopefully there is a couple good scores in me for the weekend.”

Dunlap is playing like a spry rookie again, completely energized by his victory and all the great things that winning delivers along with it. His tour card is safe through the end of 2025, which has caused him to revisit his plans for his future. He had been contemplating retirement.

“At 60, I still feel like I’m figuring things out,” said Dunlap, who never tasted victory in his long career on the PGA Tour. “Maybe I figured a little something out recently, and then you play well, and if you continue to play well, then you get some confidence.”

He isn’t letting up after winning; instead, Dunlap realizes that perhaps now is a great time to strike again. No question he has been riding a nice wave of late. As confident as he is, though, Dunlap knows that he still has to step up and hit the shots.

“It always still boils down to what you think about your game, how you feel about it,” Dunlap said. “If you wake up and you were kind of ‘fooling it’ and you bought just that week with some Band-Aid, and the Band-Aid goes away, you’re right back to stressing and hitting bad shots.”

Two players, Billy Mayfair and Ricardo Gonzalez, will return to the par-5 ninth to officially complete the second round at 7:15 a.m Saturday. Mayfair sits right on the cutline, currently at 3 over; Gonzalez, a longtime European Tour player from Argentina who won his first PGA Tour Champions title earlier this season in Morocco, is 3 under.

The cut is expected to fall at 3-over 145, in which case 12 PGA of America Golf Professionals from the Corebridge Financial Team would survive to play the final two rounds. That group includes Iowa’s Jeff Schmid, who is tied for 13th at 5-under 137, and Frank Esposito, who is only two shots behind him. Both players shot 71 on Friday.

Florida PGA Professional Rod Perry, who shot 76 in the opening round, bounced back by shooting a bogey-free 67 on Friday to earn two more rounds. Ohio's Bob Sowards, winner of the Senior PGA Professional Championship in October, rallied to birdie his final two holes on Friday to shoot 73 and sneak inside the cutline. Bernhard Langer also will make the cut right on the number, despite a triple bogey Friday.

Round 3 is expected to start at approximately 8:15 a.m. off of tees No. 1 and No. 10.