At the 478th attempt, after 25 years a pro and 10 humbling returns to qualifying school, 48-year-old Richard Bland at last won a European Tour title on Saturday.
The Belfry has witnessed many emotional scenes – Ryder Cup moments that have lifted an entire continent – but in terms of personal fulfilment nothing tops the tears of the Tour’s oldest first-time winner.
Certainly, the Betfred British Masters has never seen anything quite like it. The only shame was that the crowds were not allowed into the famous Midlands course. But then, the nerves were frayed enough by the time Bland, the immensely popular Staffordshire golfer, tapped in for the par which gave him the play-off victory over the Italian Guido Migliozzi.
“I’ve finally done it,” Bland said. “It’s probably going to take a few days to sink in. It’s what I’ve worked for for 20 years. I’ve had a few close calls and I assume someone up there was looking down on me quite favourably today.”
Only countryman Malcolm MacKenzie (509) has taken more attempts to claim his maiden win. Bland made only one bogey all week and was inspired in his final-round 66 to set the clubhouse target on 13-under. But he seemed in danger of yet again being cruelly denied by Migliozzi, the impressive 24-year-old from Vicenza who was not even born when his rival joined the paid ranks.
Birdies on the 15th and 16th handed Migliozzi a share of the lead and when he hit the green in two on the par-five 17th, it looked another hard-lucky story in a journeyman’s tale packed with them. But Migliozzi missed from five feet for birdie after lipping out for an eagle.
From despair, Bland’s many admirers were suddenly euphoric, particularly when the youngster skewed his drive on the 18th and was forced to play a provisional. But his ball had plugged into the wet grass on the edge of the bunker and after receiving a fortuitous free drop, Migliozzi located the greenside bunker. A courageous up and down meant extra holes.
Migliozzi soon cracked, taking the three-putt bogey that ensured it was the player ranked 212th in the world, who has never been in the top 100, left celebrating, with a cheque for £290,000, by far his biggest payday.
The lowest point in Bland’s career came when he lost his card in 2018. And at home, his brother, Heath, was suffering from a life-threatening illness which saw him placed in an induced coma for a month at the start of the year.
“This is one for him as well,” Bland added. “It took a lot of guts for me to go back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old when you’re probably old enough to be most of the guys’ father.
“I wasn’t there to make friends – although I did and it was great – but it was purely get your head down, get the job down and back to where I felt like I belong. I knew there was unfinished business out here and I’m just pleased that I proved I can do it.
“I loved it down the stretch out there. I had a one-shot lead with six holes to play and hit the shots when I needed to and that’s a huge confidence boost going forwards. Who knows? None come around for ages and then maybe another will come along in quick succession.”
Another Englishman in Dave Coupland came third on 12-under alongside Finland’s Mikko Korhonen and Poland’s Adrian Meronk.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, the top-ranked player in the field, held a share of the lead after birdies on the second and third, but the world No 45 eventually signed for a 71 to finish eighth.
On the Ladies European Tour, Slovakian Pia Banik and local favourite Lee-Anne Pace were sharing the lead on two-under when the third round of the Investec South African Women’s Open was suspended due to heavy rain.
The pair have played nine and eight holes respectively and face a marathon final day at the Westlake Course in Cape Town. Lydia Hall is the best-placed Briton, the Welshwomen four off the pace with nine holes remaining of her round.