There was nothing bland about how the Betfred British Masters was won other than the winner’s name.
After 478 starts on the European Tour, Englishman Richard Bland can call himself a champion. He fired a bogey-free 6-under 66 in the final round at the Belfry in England, beating Italy’s Guido Migliozzi with a par on the first playoff hole to win the Betfred British Masters.
The 48-year-old became the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour. He had won once on the Challenge Tour during his 25-year pro career, notched 32 top 10s on the main circuit, but the closest he had come to victory was at the 2002 Irish Open. On that occasion, Bland fell out of a four-way playoff on the second hole.
This time, Bland drained a 25-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole and pumped his fist in celebration. Then after collecting his ball, he rubbed both hands over his face in disbelief and buried it in his hat to hide his emotions. Years of frustration and anguish poured out of him. But his work was far from done.
Migliozzi, 24, helped by taking three putts for par at the par-5 17th, but bounced back to make a par out of a greenside bunker at 18 to tie Bland at 13-under 275. They returned to 18 for the first playoff hole and it looked to be advantage Migliozzi, a two-time winner on the circuit, who had the closer birdie putt. To his chagrin, he gunned his putt 6 feet past the hole and missed the comebacker for par. That left Bland with 3 feet to achieve a lifetime goal and he buried it.
Bland, who credited his return to an old driver for hitting nearly every fairway at the Belfry, made only one bogey for the week.
He lost his card at the end of 2018 and had to return to the Challenge Tour, but he never gave up on his dream of winning on the European Tour.
“What was I going to do for the next three, four years,” he said of accepting his demotion with grace at age 46. “I’m getting fat as it is. It’s only going to get worse.”
In a video call with his parents, Bland asked his mom if she was all right. “No!” she said through tears of joy. “I’ve waited for this so long. We’re absolutely proud of you.”
Earlier in the week, an American friend of Bland’s gave him a simple pep talk: one shot at a time, one hole at a time. “I had that in my head all day and to make the dream come true,” Bland said. “That’s as far as I went.”
It took him all the way to the winner’s circle. At long last.