SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm should’ve been stressed standing over critical par putts midway through his second round at the U.S. Open but with his previous experience at the Farmers Insurance Open in his back pocket his heartrate never lifted. Rahm battled with his driver off the tee on Friday, finding just one fairway in the first 12 holes of his round, but used the rest of his skills to scratch out a 1-under 70 and move to 3-under just two back of morning wave pace-setter Richard Bland. RELATED: Full U.S. Open leaderboard | ‘It’s OK to not be OK sometimes’ As a previous winner at the PGA TOUR’s regular January stop on the same course (2017), Rahm had a comfort level others might not when it comes to the subtle breaks on the Torrey Pines greens. And sure enough, he drained momentum saving putts from 14-feet on the 10th, seven feet on the 11th and five feet on the 12th to rescue his chances of claiming a first major victory. “I just had to survive. I’ve got to say, that stretch of putts on 10, 11, 12 was key. Things could have taken a turn for the worse, and I was able to save three great pars in a row,” Rahm said. “The memory of some putts and some breaks can always help. Obviously, they’re rolling a little bit different, a little bit faster and you have to play a little bit more break, but in my case, the putt on 11, I knew it was straight. I’ve hit that putt before. I’ve missed it before. And like the putt on 10, I knew it broke a lot more than it looks.” It is this experience that meant it was no surprise for Rahm to see fellow former Farmers Insurance Open winner Bubba Watson (2011) shoot a 4-under 67 to join him at 3-under heading to the weekend. “I’ve played well here. This golf course is such a beast. Great putters don’t make as many putts because rumor is it bounces around these greens. I’ve got a chance on this course,” Watson said. “The golf course has definitely changed since I won ten years ago, but I can see some of the shots. I’m just hitting big slices, trying to get the ball in play, but I can see this golf course a lot better, and I got some confidence knowing that some areas are patchy, where you can play out of the rough when you miss the fairway.” For Rahm to continue to play stress free he knows he will have to start hitting the fairway more often – much like he did after the confidence building one putts. He only missed one in the final six holes. Prior to that he was missing predominantly to the left. “I feel like it looks worse than it really was. It’s easy to get a little bit tight on this golf course,” Rahm said. “All the shots, the start lines were proper, they just weren’t fading. I’m just not turning fast enough. (So) I just have to swing a little bit harder with the driver, and that’s exactly what I did starting on 13.” The Spanish star is not suggesting he’s owed anything from the unfortunate circumstance that saw him withdraw from the recent Memorial Tournament presented by Workday while leading by six with a round to play thanks to a positive COVID-19 test, but he did say he believes in karma as he looks to keep his form going this weekend. “I believe in karma in the sense that good things happen to good people,” Rahm smiled. “What happened a couple weeks ago is something I can’t control, unfortunately, but what I can do is control what I do every second of the day. Just following the routine, make sure I’m hydrated, make sure I’m eating, and make sure I’m thinking the right things out there on the golf course. So far I’ve done a great job, and hopefully I can keep going.” For Watson to keep it rolling he knows the key ingredients are having fun and then having focus at the right moments. He figures that’s what helped him where he is so far. “I was just kind of in the flow playing with two great guys, shooting the breeze, making fun of them and stuff, so it really took me out of my element. I didn’t know what they were shooting. They didn’t know what I was doing,” Watson laughed about his pairing with fellow Masters champions Adam Scott (+3) and Sergio Garcia (+3). With his last top-10 at a major coming in the 2018 Masters and his last top-10 at a major outside of the Masters way back at the 2010 PGA Championship where he was runner up Watson said he will stay relaxed by playing video games and staying happy. He had missed the cut in six of the last nine U.S. Open’s he’d played. “I enjoy (the added pressure). I’m striking the ball well. I’m actually going to practice some five-footers, and I’m going to hit some balls just a little bit just to make sure we’re doing what we want to do,” he added. “I think I’ve been playing well. I feel like I’m charging.”
A 48-year-old Englishman is contending at Torrey Pines, but it may not be the one you expected. Lee Westwood finished third in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and has had a recent resurgence, highlighted by runners-up at THE PLAYERS and Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. RELATED: Full U.S. Open leaderboard | Bland’s breakthrough win on European Tour Westwood’s countryman, Richard Bland, was the one making waves Friday morning, however. He recently went viral, thanks to his emotional interview after winning his first European Tour title. The underdogs are one of the big stories at every U.S. Open, and especially here, where Rocco Mediate took Tiger Woods the distance 13 years ago. Now Bland is beautifully filling that role. Here are five things to know about the U.S. Open’s surprise contender: 1. Bland’s first European Tour win was a long time coming. His win at last month’s British Masters made him the oldest first-time winner in that circuit’s history. It came in his 478th start. Only Malcolm Mackenzie (509) had made more starts before winning his maiden European Tour title. Bland holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, then beat Italy’s Guido Migliozzi in a playoff. In a video call with his parents, Bland asked his mother if she was OK. “No!” she said through tears of joy. “I’ve waited for this so long. We’re absolutely proud of you.” Bland won the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2001 to earn his European Tour card. He lost a playoff in the Irish Open in 2002, then had to wait 15 years for his next runner-up finish. He also finished second in last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship. 2. He arrives at Torrey Pines on a bit of a hot streak. Bland was ranked 218th in the world entering the British Masters. He’s jumped more than 100 spots since. He followed his win with a third-place finish at the European Tour’s Made in HimmerLand. Those were his last two starts before arriving at Torrey Pines. He’s now 115th in the world ranking. He’s never ranked inside the world’s top 100 in his career, reaching a career best of 102nd in 2016. 3. This is just Richard Bland’s second PGA TOUR start in the United States. He missed the cut after shooting 77-70 in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. This is just the fourth major of Bland’s career, as well. He’s also played in two Open Championships, finishing T22 in 2017 and missing the cut in 1998. He was two shots off the lead after the opening round of the 2017 Open. 4. Bland had to return to the Challenge Tour, Europe’s version of the Korn Ferry Tour, as recently as 2019. “I said to my coach Tim Barter what am I going to do the next three or four years,” he wrote in a blog on EuropeanTour.com. “It was definitely a low point, but I always had that belief that I could still compete, and win, on the European Tour.” It was the fourth time that Bland graduated from the Challenge Tour. 5. Bland’s brother, Heath, was hospitalized in late 2017 with what he believed to be the flu. His heart stopped for a few seconds and he spent several weeks in a a medically-induced coma. “I would never, ever put what happened to my brother as the excuse for losing my card, but I wasn’t at the races for the first six months of that year. He was the priority, and rightly so, because his health would always be more important than whatever I achieved in golf,” Richard Bland wrote.
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