WATFORD, England – Richard Bland rolled in six birdies in his last nine holes to shoot a 7-under 64 in the second round of the British Masters on Friday, earning the Englishman a one-stroke lead as he goes in search of his first European Tour victory.
Bland shot the lowest round of the day to move to 11 under par and overtake Alexander Noren and Andrew Johnston, who as playing partners shot 65s in the morning at The Grove course just north of London.
The closest Bland has come to winning in 400 appearances on tour was in 2002, when he was second at the Irish Open. He also has two third-place finishes in his 20-year professional career and has been in solid form this year with six top-10 finishes — three in his last five events — and just two missed cuts.
"It's by far the best year of my career and there is so much more still to play for," said the 127th-ranked Bland. "Suddenly, you start thinking about your world ranking and the possibility of playing in some majors next year.
"I want to keep the foot down and make it an unbelievable year and to win here would be a huge honor."
Noren, who is seeking a third European Tour title in 2016 after winning the Scottish Open and the European Masters, was 8 under for his round before running up a double-bogey on his last hole, No. 9. Johnston recorded his eighth birdie of the round on that hole to briefly tie for the lead.
The bearded Johnston, also known by his nickname of "Beef," has become a cult figure on the European Tour and would be a popular winner of the British Masters, which is in its second year back on the schedule.
Johnston is one of seven Englishmen in the top 13 through two rounds. Two of them — Anthony Wall (65) and Tommy Fleetwood (67) — are tied for fourth with Scotland's Scott Jamieson (65).
Jamieson is currently 117th on the Race to Dubai with only the top 110 after next week's Portugal Masters keeping their card for next season. The Scot has been inspired by compatriot Marc Warren, who jumped from 125th to 70th after finishing fifth in the Dunhill Links Championship last week.
"It's amazing how quickly things can change," Jamieson said. "Marc went from possibly losing his card to maybe playing in all the Final Series events, but I still have two big days ahead of me."
Luke Donald, who is hosting the tournament, missed the cut by five shots after following up a first-round 77 with a 1-under 70.
"I thought as host they might give me another nine holes to try and make the cut, but it was not to be," Donald said, jokingly. "I've seen a different side of what goes on and it has been fun to be a part of. It's tough to juggle but I'm not going to make any excuses."