Richard Bland settles at the top in Cazoo Classic, Shubhankar Sharma at 2-under

Richard Bland started with three birdies and never looked back as he moved to seven under at London Golf Club. Shubhankar Sharma shot 70

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Shubhankar Sharma - European Tour - Getty Images

13 August 2021: Richard Bland was eyeing entry into golf’s biggest events after he carded an opening 65 to hold a one shot lead after day one of the 2021 Cazoo Classic. Shubhankar Sharma (70) was the lone Indian under par, after the field of five struggled on a challenging course to find their best golf. Gaganjeet Bhullar (73) made three birdies in his one-over card. SSP Chawrasia made 75 while Shiv Kapur and Ajeetesh Sandhu shot 76 in the opening round.

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Shubhankar made three birdies on either side of his trek around the London Golf Club. He moved to four-under after carding three bogeys in four holes, but conceded bogeys on the 16th and 18th to settle for a 70.

Shiv Kapur started on the tenth hole, conceding ground very early in his round. Playing just the third event of his 2021 calendar, Kapur remedied a pair of bogeys on his first two holes with a birdie on the third. But it turned out to be only gain on the course on Thursday.

Bland started with three birdies and never looked back as he moved to seven under at London Golf Club to continue one of the most remarkable stories of the 2021 Race to Dubai.

Richard Bland - European Tour - Getty Images
Richard Bland of England tees off on the seventeenth hole during the First Round of the Cazoo Classic at the London Golf Club in West Kingsdown, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

After becoming the oldest ever European Challenge Tour graduate in 2019, he won his first European Tour event at the 478th attempt at the 2021 Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett.

The 48-year-old was then the oldest player in history to hold the 36 hole lead at the U.S. Open Championship and hit the opening tee shot at The Open last month.

He has not played since that week at Royal St George’s Golf Club but looked like he had never been away as he edged ahead of countrymen Jordan Smith and Dale Whitnell and Americans Sean Crocker and Sihwan Kim.

Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, Swede Niklas Lemke and Frenchman Joël Stalter were then two shots off the lead.

Bland is currently sat at 17th in the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex and is aiming to keep his place in the top 30 between now and the end of the season to earn entry into the WGC-HSBC Champions and next year’s 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.

“I want to get to the WGC-HSBC at the end of the year and a big goal of mine would be to get to The Open next year at St Andrews,” he said. “I’ve never played an Open at St Andrews and to play the 150th edition there – not sure I want to hit the first tee shot again, although I wouldn’t mind it there, it’s a bit wider than it was at Royal St George’s.

“To play that one would be very special. But I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and that’s worked for me, keep that going into next year because I plan to go to the Champions Tour next year, so that’s starting to come onto my radar.

“So I just want to stay as competitive as I possibly can up to that point and if I keep doing what I’m doing then that’ll be the case.”

On his round, he added: “Pretty much all of it was good today, I just felt like it was a continuation from where I left off before my break. I was driving the ball great, hitting some nice iron shots in and I didn’t really hole that much to be honest.”

I want to get to the WGC-HSBC at the end of the year and a big goal of mine would be to get to The Open next year at St Andrews

Starting on the tenth, Bland put a nine iron to 11 feet on his opening hole, put a five iron even closer at the next and almost chipped in at the 12th before making another birdie on a par five at the 15th to turn in 32.

Another excellent approach to eight feet brought a gain on the second and when he completed the set of birdies at the par fives at the fifth and eighth, he was ahead alone.

A poor tee shot on the second led to a Whitnell bogey but that was his only dropped shot of the day as he put an approach to ten feet at the fourth, got up and down from the sand on the fifth and hit the eighth green in two.

He then made the most of the 12th to kick off a hat-trick of gains before holing a 30 footer on the 16th.

While Kim was a little ragged off the tee, he made up for it with the putter, also taking advantage of the 12th, fifth and eighth and adding further birdies on the 13th, 16th, 17th, second and sixth to go with bogeys on the 14th and first.

The par fives were proving gettable and Smith claimed his birdies on the fifth, 12th and 15th, adding approaches to inside ten feet at the fourth and ninth and holing a 35 footer on the 17th.

Crocker made a 35 foot putt for eagle on the 12th but struggled to maintain that momentum as he cancelled out birdies on the 14th and 15th with bogeys on the 13th and first.

A 20 footer on the sixth was sandwiched by birdies on the fifth and eighth as he found the greens in two, before an approach to nine feet on the ninth made it four birdies in his last five holes.

Bjerregaard made one of the par saves of the day after finding a nasty lie on the 16th and combined it with six birdies and a bogey, a ratio matched by Lemke and Stalter.

There was a group of 11 players at four under including Ryder Cup hopeful Bernd Wiesberger and fellow European Tour winners John Catlin, Marcus Kinhult and Mikko Korhonen.