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A Bland Win Is Exciting at the Finish : Senior golf: South African shoots 65, but has to wait for Colbert miss on 18th hole to clinch victory at Wilshire.

October 23, 1995|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His favorite color should be beige. His favorite cereal should be oatmeal, his favorite flavor should be vanilla and his favorite movie should be "Ordinary People."

Meet John Bland, the newest winner on the Senior PGA Tour, a 50-year-old South African who qualified for the Ralphs Senior Classic on Monday, then won the whole thing Sunday.

Imagine that, Bland said.

"I didn't expect to win at all," said Bland, who toured Wilshire Country Club in a closing round of 65 to defeat Jim Colbert by one shot. "I must say I'm very lucky."

Maybe so, but it wasn't luck as much as it was those five birdies Bland had on the front nine that caused him to make the turn at 30.

By then, his lead was three shots, which eased his worries about getting his yearlong exemption to play the Senior PGA Tour.

Colbert, who closed with a 67, had a chance to force a playoff, but he sent an eight-foot birdie putt inches to the right on No. 18.

"It was exciting," Colbert said.

Colbert knows very little about Bland except for one thing.

"Well, we'll sell another house in the United States now," Colbert said. "This is good for the real estate people."

Bland finished first among 110 golfers who tried for four spots in qualifying Monday. After that, presumably anything else is less nerve-racking.

Now that he is $120,000 richer, Bland may even be able to make a whole new name for himself.

At least Gary Player recognizes this golfer is Bland when he sees him. But Player has an advantage since he's also a South African.

"Very few people realize what a good player he is," said Player, who had it half right, since very few probably realize he's a player at all.

"You know, I'm reading, well, 'Who's this guy?,' but he's been winning tournaments in South Africa for many, many years and winning tournaments in Europe," Player said.

Actually, Bland did win a senior tour event in September in London, but the last of his two victories on the European Tour was the nine years ago.

None of that really matters now that he has become the first qualifier in six years to win a Senior PGA Tour event.

Terry Dill and Dave Stockton tied for third at 10-under par 203, two shots behind Bland. Al Geiberger's 66 moved him into fifth place at 204, one shot ahead of Chi Chi Rodriguez and Larry Gilbert, who shot 40 on the front and finished with a 73.

Bland began the day four shots off Gilbert's lead, but he birdied four consecutive holes on the front with long putts and knew something was up.

"I realized I could win the tournament," he said.

He was right. The only adventure left for Bland was the 12-foot putt for birdie he made at No. 11, his six-footer to save par at No. 17 when he came up short of the green and whatever Colbert would come up with.

As it turned out, Colbert didn't have quite enough. Four shots behind Bland as he made the turn, Colbert got three back in a hurry with a four-foot birdie putt at No. 10 and an eight-footer at No. 11.

When he holed a bunker shot from 30 feet on No. 13, Colbert was only two shots down.

But Colbert had noticed a disturbing trend.

"Every time I got to another hole, John made another birdie," he said.

Bland's lone birdie on the back was the difference, but so was the 12-footer for birdie that Colbert lipped out at No. 16, not to mention the last miss at the 18th.

"I can't say I got a bad roll," Colbert said. "As soon as the ball moved right, it was not going in."

Bland squirmed away as Colbert's putt stayed on the green, then began counting his good fortune. Principal among them is the fact that he doesn't have to qualify for senior events for a year.

Not only that, but there's a huge difference between playing the senior tour here instead of in Europe, Bland said.

"The weather," he said. "In London, I was wearing three jerseys, a rain suit and rain was bashing down for three days. You don't need that."

Two weeks ago, in his only other PGA Senior Tour event, Bland finished tied for fifth in Napa. Last week, he failed to qualify.

You don't need that. This one was better.

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