England’s Richard Bland and American Russell Henley, an unlikely pair of major pace-setters, shared the lead late in Friday’s second round of the US Open with South African Louis Oosthuizen one stroke adrift.
Henley, on a four-year US PGA win drought and never a top-10 major finisher, lipped out a two-foot par putt on his final hole to fire a one-under 70 and settle for a share of the 36-hole clubhouse lead on five-under par 137.
“I feel good about my game,” Henley said. “I’ve never been in this position before in a major. Just feel like I’m going to learn something no matter what happens.”
Bland won his first European Tour title at last month’s British Masters after 478 starts over 25 years, becoming the tour’s oldest first-time winner at age 48.
After shooting 67 on Friday, he’s a threat to become the oldest winner in US Open history, breaking the mark of 45 set by American Hale Irwin in 1990 at Medinah.
“I’m feeling pretty good about my game,” Bland said. “I’ve been driving the ball good for five or six weeks now, which is the cornerstone if you’re going to put a fight up for a US Open.”
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion with five major runner-up efforts since winning at St. Andrews, fired 71 to share third on 138 with 22-year-old American Matthew Wolff, last year’s US Open runner-up who is coming off a two-month mental health hiatus.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain shared fifth on 139.
World number 63 Henley, who hasn’t won a PGA title since the 2017 Houston Open, produced his best major result the week after that win qualified him for the Masters, sharing 11th at Augusta National.
Henley, who started on the 10th hole, sank a six-foot birdie putt at the 18th, rolled in a clutch par putt from 17 feet at the sixth and dropped a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the par-3 eighth to seize the lead along.
But after missing a 17-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth, his tap-in rolled off the edge and left him tied for the lead, as he was with Oosthuizen after 18 holes. But he barely knows Bland.
“I know he won earlier this year, might have been his first win on the European Tour,” Henley said. “Other than that, I don’t. I’m sure he knows nothing about me too.”
Bland is making only his fourth career major start after missed cuts at the 1998 British Open and 2009 US Open and a share of 22nd at the 2017 British Open.
It’s only the second American appearance for the Southampton resident after missing the cut 12 years ago at Bethpage.
Bland, who made seven birdies against three bogeys, might change his plans to play next week in Germany if he does make history.
“I might skip it,” he said. “I might buy a new ticket and come home a couple days later.”
A win would let him play an event he’s only seen on television — the Masters.
“There’s nothing like the back nine of a Masters,” Bland said. “If I can keep playing the way I’m playing, maybe next year I might be able to experience it.
“That would be unbelievable. That would be a dream come true.”
It’s an inspirational age-defying tale to rival that of Phil Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship last month at Kiawah Island at age 50 to become the oldest-ever major winner.
Mickelson, trying to complete a career Grand Slam this week, was 3-over for the event after 16 holes.
Oosty hitting it well
Oosthuizen made bogeys at the sixth and par-3 11th holes in his second round but sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the 14th and a nine-footer at 18.
“Drove it nicely,” he said. “Felt like I’m putting nicely and kept it all together.”
Watson birdied five of his last six holes to shoot 67.
“Just made some putts,” Watson said. “I thought I played pretty smart.”
Rahm shot 70 thanks to an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th.
“Feeling confident,” Rahm said. “I hit some beautiful shots.”
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau shot 69 to stand on 142.
“If I can clean up my iron play and get a little more comfortable with the irons and drivers, I’ll have a good chance for this weekend,” DeChambeau said.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy struggled to a 73 to stand on 143.
“I made a couple of mental errors and missed it in the wrong spots,” said McIlroy. “One-over is still in it. Still feel like I’ve got a really good chance.”
World number one Dustin Johnson was on 144 after a 73.