By Aaron Murphy
Richard Bland. Photo by Golffile
Cormac Sharvin led the Irish Challenge with a final round three under par 69 to finish in a tie for 43rd place at the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett.
Ardglass professional finished a shot ahead of Paul Dunne who carded a final round 73 for a share of 52nd place. Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell signed off with an impressive seven under par 65 and finished in a tie for 65th place
But the day belonged to Richard Bland, who finally claimed his first European Tour title at the 478th attempt, as he beat Guido Migliozzi in a play-off to seal an emotional win.
The 48-year-old arrived at The Belfry third on the list of players with most appearances without a win and revealed he already had one eye on the seniors game but after making just one bogey in 72 holes, he showed he could still mix it with players many years his junior.
And after carding a closing 66 with a birdie on the last to get to 13 under, the home favourite parred the first extra hole as Italian Migliozzi, who was just 18 months old when Bland made his European Tour debut, three putted.
England's Dave Coupland, Finn Mikko Korhonen and Pole Adrian Meronk finished a shot out of the play-off, one clear of another Englishman in Andy Sullivan and South African Dean Burmester.
Bland made his European Tour debut at the 1998 Open Championship and in the 476 events between that week and this, he achieved three second places, two thirds and 26 other top tens.
A European Challenge Tour graduate in 2001, 2004 and 2008, he also came through the Qualifying School in 2007 and 2011 before achieving what was then a career year in 2016 as he finished 27th on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex.
But he lost his card in 2018 only to go back to the Challenge Tour and become the oldest ever graduate at the age of 46.
“It’s probably going to take a few days to sink in," he said. "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.
“A big incentive for me this year was to get to 500 events and this will allow me to do that, which I’ll be hugely proud of.
“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? Maybe it’s like buses. None come around for ages and then two come along in quick succession.”
Richard Bland. Photo by Golffile
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
On his return to the Challenge Tour in 2019, he added: "I was 46 at the time: what am I going to do for the next three or four years? I'm getting fatter as it is, I'm only going to be getting worse.
"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."
Bland left himself seven feet at the first, made a two putt gain at the third and holed from 12 feet at the seventh to turn in 33.
An 18 footer at the tenth had him in the leading group and when he holed a sensational putt from twice that distance after being bang on line at the par three 12th, he was the man to catch.
He missed his chances at the par five 15th and 17th and soon had company at the top in the shape of Korhonen.
After putting irons inside ten feet at the fourth, seventh, eighth and tenth, the 40 year old got up and down from the sand on the 17th with a 16 footer.
But ahead on the last, Bland - after only just clearing the water off the tee - holed a 28 foot putt to bring a fist pumping celebration and set the target ahead of the longest 90 minutes of his golfing life.
Korhonen parred the last to finish 12 under after a 67 but following what had been a steady round so far, Migliozzi burst into life.
The man half Bland's age had made a 15 footer on the third and got up and down from the sand at the ninth to turn in 34.
He was one roll from a birdie at the tenth and inches from another from 50 feet on the 12th but he laid up on the 15th and made a gain from six feet and then put his second to two feet at the next to join the lead.
With Bland watching on a television in the practice area, Migliozzi could then only make par after getting on the 17th green in two and headed up the last - the most difficult hole on the course this week - needing a par.
After a poor tee shot, the 24-year-old did well to find the greenside bunker and he showed nerves of steel to get up and down and take it to the play-off.
Meronk had birdied the first and bogeyed the 13th before making a hat-trick of gains from the 15th and missing a putt to get into the play-off on the last in his 69.
Coupland had been level par for his round after 13 holes but made the most of the 15th and then holed from 72 feet for an eagle on the 17th and 46 feet for a birdie on the last in a 68.
Sullivan carded a 69, one shot better than Burmester, to finish a shot ahead of Scottish duo Calum Hill and Robert MacIntyre and Italian Edoardo Molinari.