15 May 2021: Sport can be cathartic. And in golf, more often than not, those moments of catharsis arrive on a Sunday. Only, in the case of Richard Bland, he had to wait for nearly twenty five years since turning professional to experience the fine rewards of persistence. 32 top 10s, 3 runner-up finishes and 478 starts into his career, Bland finally got his hands on a piece of silver that he craved for longer than many might care to even remember. The Englishman navigated the tricky Brabazon course with a lone bogey through the week, reaching 13-under with a long putt for birdie on the 72nd hole. Guido Migliozzi, just 24 and already a two-time winner, caught up with him a little later setting up a playoff.
The last time Bland played in one was in the 2002 Irish Open, where he fell out of a four way playoff on the second hole. On this occasion though Bland struck his tee shot with confidence and worked his way to the farside of the green with a 3-wood from the first cut, a flat laser that rolled past the ridge at the top of the green before settling on the edge. Migliozzi got his second shot to a similar range on the green, farther right off the flag.
Bland used the putter first and left himself just a few feet for par. The Italian put plenty of pace on his putt and saw it roll well past the cup. His fourth had to fall in the cup to keep the pressure on Bland, but Migliozzi blinked to miss his par. Bland kept his calm to find the cup and the rewards of a life long wait for honour on the European Tour. Not even his opponent would have begrudged the oldest first time winner his most memorable moment as he lifted his arms in both triumph and relief.
He deserved it too. On Sunday, Bland made a fine bogey-free 66 with a birdie on the last to move to 13-under and the clubhouse lead. Overnight leader Eddie Pepperell fell out of contention with a 73 while his partner Edoardo Molinari could only get as far as 10-under.
Migliozzi, just 18 months old when 48-year-old Bland turned pro, caught up at 13-under with back to back birdies at the 15th and 16th holes. Dave Coupland, Mikko Korhonen and Adrian Meronk finished in a tie for third at 12-under. The troika were one shot better than Andy Sullivan and Dean Burmester.
Shubhankar Sharma saved his best for last, producing an impressive 69 to end the week in T34. Sharma produced four birdies off his final ten holes to move to 4-under 284.
His best result this year has been T22 in the Dubai Desert Classic in January. Shubhankar was also T28 in the Qatar Masters and T30 in the Kenya Savannah Classic, both in March. In eleven starts this year on the European Tour, the Indian made six weekends and missed the cut on five occasions. He is currently ranked 420th in the world, but the result this weekend must get him a nice jump on Monday.
Quotes from European Tour
“I’ve done it,” said an emotional Bland as he was interviewed by long time coach Tim Barter, who was clearly emotional himself.
“My game had been tending in the right way and I’d worked really hard, as you know we’ve worked so hard on the wedges.
“I just drove the ball so well this week, I’ve gone back to my old driver. Round here – especially for me, I’m not the longest on Tour – I’ve got to hit fairways and I’ve probably missed single digit fairways all week.”
“Just get your head down and do the job, no disrespect to the other players, I wasn’t there to make any friends. I did make friends and it was great but it was just purely, get your head down, get the job done and get back to where I felt I belong.”