US Open Round 2: Flaue, Henley surprise leader in Torrey | Sports news

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By JIM LITKE, AP Sports Writer

Raise your hand if you have a guy named Bland sharing the 36-hole lead on your US Open Bingo card. Now put it down. Not even him.

The 48-year-old Englishman – first name Richard – won the first tournament of a not-so-outstanding European Tour career at the British Masters just last month to start a 0-for-447 series and receive an invitation to Torrey Pines. He next followed his opening round of 67 on Friday with a 70 and shared the top spot in the leaderboard with the less unlikely Russell Henley with 5.

To say that the golf world did not see either coming might be an understatement.

“Most of the people who come in here,” a reporter asked Bland at his press conference after the round, “have Ping or Titleist on their guard. What is the story behind it … “

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“This is just my golf club at home, the Wisley,” said Bland. “I don’t have a hat deal right now. … I kind of said to the golf club, ‘Look, it would be nice if I wear the hat’ and they gave me about 10 to get out of here with. “

Henley, on the other hand, has a golfer pedigree. Former College Golfer of the Year, Georgia award winner, turned pro 10 years ago and won three PGA Tour wins, the last time in 2017. He has not scored a single top 10 on 26 previous major appearances .

“I’ve never been in that position in a major,” said Henley. “I just feel like I’ll learn something no matter what.”

What the rest of us have learned – or at least been reminded of – is that the US Open deserves its reputation as the toughest test in golf. Unlike the double-digit birdie festivals where the PGA Tour favors the big hits each week, there is never any question about where the United States Golf Association’s lineups fall on the risk-reward scale.

It’s not just the narrowed fairways and the accelerated greens. The only time a PGA Tour player encounters something as big and gnarled as the rough pushing those fairways and ringing every green is after returning from a month on the road to find out the gardener has retired.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the stars of the game can’t play tough courses. Among others, Matthew Wolff is 4 below, Jon Rahm is 3 below and Brooks Koepka, Colin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau are all tied. Even 51-year-old Phil Mickelson is still within shouting distance for the tour at the age of 2.

But when a layout like Torrey Pine’s punishments as abundantly as it rewards birdies, it puts every golfer on the defensive and brings steady, short-hitting players like Bland and Henley into play. The other thing it does is push everyone’s nerves.

Wolff, 22, has spoken openly this week about the two months he has retired from the game to decompress and how arriving with no expectations about enjoying his laps has eased the strain. Equally illuminating was the answer given by Bubba Watson, who is 3 years old, when a reporter asked about his comfort in Torrey Pines this week.

Watson, a two-time Masters Champion, suffers from severe anxiety. He’s uncomfortable in large crowds, embarrassed in the spotlight, and afraid of being judged – hardly the profile of a top golfer.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Watson began his reply. “Don’t tell anyone; That’s a secret. I’m nervous about every shot, OK? Told a guy out there … he said, ‘Man, great putt. You do everything. ‘ I said, ‘I’m trying to delay it man, but you keep falling for it.’

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said finally. “I am so nervous.”

It’s a small consolation, but the USGA found a way to let even the coldest blooded professionals feel the pressure.

“When I’m back five on a Saturday, I usually have to do 12, 15 and more birdies on the weekend to keep going,” said Thomas. “But this is a US Open. It’s a little different.

“Of course I would like to do 12 or 15 birdies,” he added, “but I’m not planning on doing that.”

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