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For Richard Bland, European Tour victory proves worth wait

Betfred British Masters 2021
Richard Bland reacts to his 1st victory on the European Tour in his 478th start, at the Betfred British Masters.

In his 478th career start spanning a quarter century, Englishman breaks through, winning Betfred British Masters on 1st extra hole

It took him 478 starts, but England’s Richard Bland, at age 48, finally can cross off a big career goal: victory on the European Tour.

Bland won the Betfred British Masters, outlasting Italy’s Guido Migliozzi with a par on the first playoff hole Saturday, for his first title since he debuted on tour in 1998.

The odyssey required four trips to the developmental Challenge Tour and two more returns to the big tour via Qualifying School, but he did it.

“It’s what I’ve worked for for 20 years,” Bland said between tears at The Belfry’s Brabazon Course in Sutton Coldfield, England. “That’s all we work for, to win out here and try and prove yourself. I’ve had a few close calls, and I assume someone up there was looking down on me quite favorably today. It was just my day.”

Bland sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to cap a bogey-free 6-under 66 for a 13-under 275 total and the clubhouse lead. Migliozzi, a two-time tour winner who was playing behind Bland, three-putted the par-5 17th hole for par before making a par save from a greenside bunker at the 18th, forcing a playoff.

Richard Bland wins 2021 Betfred British Masters
In his 478th start on the European Tour, England's Richard Bland finally has something to celebrate.

After returning to the par-4 18th hole in the playoff, Migliozzi held the advantage with a shorter birdie putt, but he three-putted, allowing Bland to sink a 3-footer for par to become the oldest first-time winner in tour history. England’s Dave Coupland (68), Finland’s Mikko Korhonen (67) and Poland’s Adrian Meronk (69) tied for third at 12-under 276. Tournament host Danny Willett of England tied for 11th. Julian Suri finished as the low American, in a tie for 21st. (For scores, click here.)

In a quarter century since he turned pro in 1996, Bland won once, on the developmental Challenge Tour in 2001. One year later, he lost in a four-man playoff at the Irish Open, which would prove to be the closest that he would get to the winner’s circle on the big tour until the past weekend.

Bland faced one of many career crossroads at the end of 2018, when, just before his 46th birthday, he had to return to the Challenge Tour in a quest to regain European Tour status.

“It took a lot of guts to go back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old,” he said. “You’re probably old enough to be most of the guys’ father.

“I don’t quit,” he said in stating the obvious. “Even if I’m having a bad day – you might be frustrated by it – but you never throw the towel in, because you never know in this game what’s round the corner.

“I always knew I could do it. Some of my friends out here have won. You think, If they can win, surely I can do it. I’ve left it a little late, but better late than never.”

In the history of the European Tour, only England’s Malcolm MacKenzie needed more starts for a maiden victory, with 509, before he won the 2002 French Open. It would be his lone title.

As for the future, Bland wants to make 500 starts on the European Tour and post a second victory.

“A big incentive for me was that I wanted to get to 500 events,” said Bland, who earned €339,278.53 (about $412,000) and a tour exemption through the end of 2022. “This will allow me to do that, which I’ll be hugely proud of. To play 500 events out here is a pretty good career.

“I’m just pleased that I proved myself that I can do it. Whether I get to do it again, I hope so.

“Who knows? I hope there may be another one. It might be like buses, two come along in quick succession. Right now, I’m really pleased I’ve got my hands on this one.”

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