Richard Bland is a “happy boy” after his opening round of the ISPS HANDA World Invitational after he grabbed the early clubhouse lead at Galgorm Castle and Massereene with a five-under 65 at the latter.
The 49-year-old rattled off four birdies in five holes on his back nine in a bogey-free effort at Massereene to then lead the way by one shot from eight players at four-under-par as he goes in search of his second DP World Tour win. He’s since been eclipsed by Scot Ewen Ferguson who’s six-under through 13 holes of his opening effort.
Former British Masters champion bland had just one birdie on his outward nine, at the 13th after starting on the 10th, but four more dropped in quick succession at the third, fourth, fifth and seventh to have him leading on his own.
The World No.77 has missed four cuts in his last five starts and has struggled to live up to a sensational performance last year, but he was rock solid in round one at Massereene and was delighted with how he played.
“Very pleased. Pretty stress-free golf. I think I missed one fairway and two greens. You know, the two greens I missed were pretty simple up and downs,” said Bland.
“Kind of how you want to start the week off, yeah, easing into it. Whenever you sign your scorecard for 65, you got to be a happy boy.
“To put three (birdies) in a row through the middle of the back nine (was good)… I was playing really nice and not really holing anything. Putts just sort of shaving the hole.
“I felt like even though I was one-under through 11, something like that, felt like could have been maybe a couple better. It was nice to get something out of to coming in.”
France’s Adrien Saddier will be disappointed he didn’t lead the way as he started with a four-under 68 at Galgorm, but it should have been much better as he bogeyed his final two holes to finish one back of Bland.
Spain’s Santiago Tarrio and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken also had late bogeys to drop back to four-under, with the majority of the players in second place – including Italian amateur Filippo Celli – posting their rounds at Massereene, Calum Fyfe the only other to go low at Galgorm.
Gary Hurley is the leading Irishman after a level-par 70 featuring three birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey, but beyond him there was little for local fans to cheer among the early wave of starters.
Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin and Tulfarris professional Simon Thornton opened with three-over 73s at Galgorm, a score matched by Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney at Massereene. Galgorm amateur Josh Hill, the Mullingar Scratch Trophy winner, began with a five-over 75 at his home course, while Charlie Williams limped home to a 10-over 80 at Galgorm.