NEWCASTLE, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Cheered on by his huge army of fans, Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jr. on Sunday became the first defending champion to win the Senior British Open, carding a final round 68 to again beat South Africa's John Bland, by two strokes.

O'Connor went to the last hole at Royal County Down one stroke ahead of Bland but his 70-yard pitch finished just 4 feet from the flag while the South African's approach rolled off the green and into a ditch.

Bland almost made an eagle when his pitch rolled within a foot of the hole. But O'Connor holed his short birdie putt to finish 9 under on 275.

Bland's 71 meant he finished runner-up for the third time and second year in a row. American Hubert Green was third with a 71 and a 5-under 279.

England's John Morgan finished 4-under in fourth place after a 69 and two-time titlist Bob Charles posted a 67 to place fifth on 3 under.

O'Connor collected $94,500 for the victory.

``I thought last year was so much, winning at Portrush,'' he said. ``To win the Open at Royal County Down has made my whole life in golf.''