He’s nearly 50 and playing for his first Masters. But in his way? A boyhood friend.

Richard Bland

Richard Bland hits his tee shot on Wednesday on the 12th hole at Austin Country Club.

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Richard Bland and Lee Westwood, the latter shared on Friday, played on the England Boys Team while growing up. So they go back a ways. And since Westwood can take a joke, a reporter zinged him over when the friendship may have teed off.   

“What year was that junior golf with Blandy? 1960?”

“It would have been around ’90,” Westwood said. “Cheeky. Yeah, 1990, maybe ’91. We were just whippersnappers.”

The past 10 months have been a blur for Bland. And a lesson in perseverance. Last May, before the Betfred British Masters, he had been 0 for 477 on the formerly named European Tour. Then he won. Then he held a share of the lead after two rounds at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Then he lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland in January at the Dubai Desert Classic. Which brings him to this week. And Westwood. And a tournament he’s seen only from his couch. 

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Bland’s surge has moved him up the world rankings, to 57th last week, high enough to be entered into the WGC-Match Play. But not enough for an automatic invite to the Masters in two weeks. If a player is not already invited, Augusta National takes the top 50 players in the world ranking at the end of next week. 

And while you already know what a drive down Magnolia Lane means to a player, in Bland’s case, there’s also this fact:

He’s 49. While he’s playing better than at any moment in his life, he’s also not getting any younger. 

“I don’t normally watch a lot of golf on TV, but I am one of those who is always glued to the Masters,” Bland told Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail. “Two or three years ago, I couldn’t have even contemplated making it, but now I’ve got a realistic chance.

“I’m regarding it as a free shot. Nobody expects a golfer to make it to the Masters for the first time at 49, do they?”

Of course, Bland isn’t done playing before the Masters. He can still rise up the world rankings. There’s the Match Play. On Wednesday, in group play, he tied Bryson DeChambeau. On Thursday, he defeated Talor Gooch. Should Bland win on Friday, he’d move on to the weekend, where more world ranking opportunities exist. And yes, if he won the whole thing, Bland would also get a Masters invite. (He could also receive a special one, too, but it’s hard to bank on those.)

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But first Friday. Where he’ll play, you guessed it, his former England Boys Team teammate. The 48-year-old Westwood, by the way, has played in 20 Masters and will be there this year, too. 

“Yeah, it’ll be two old guys wobbling around,” Westwood said Thursday. 

It’s here where we’ll note two scenarios should Bland and Westwood tie — if Gooch loses to DeChambeau on Friday, Bland would also advance, and if Gooch beats DeChambeau, Bland and Gooch would enter a playoff. But the whippersnappers aren’t thinking that. Shoot, Westwood could advance, too. 

“There’s a lot to play for, certainly for me,” Bland said after his match with Gooch. “If I can beat Lee, then depending on what happens with — I take it Lee beat Bryson, did he?”

“He did,” a reporter said. 

“Right, OK,” Bland continued. “So if Bryson can beat Talor, and I can beat Lee, then I’m through. But, you know, I just got to try and take care of Lee. But there’s no easy game, doesn’t matter. Lee’s still a class act, always has been, always will be. 

“But, yeah, it should be good fun.”

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.