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Dave Tindall

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The Belgian Knockout Preview

Monday, May 14, 2018


The European Tour returns to the land of Ryder Cup stars Thomas Pieters and Nicolas Colsaerts for the first time since 2000 this week and, once more, we get another new format.

 

After the World Super 6 Perth and GolfSixes focused on six-hole matches, the variation this time is head-to-head strokeplay knockout over nine holes.

 

That kicks in at the weekend after the field has been whittled down to 64 using regular strokeplay for the first 36 holes.

 

Whether golf really needs another gimmick or twist is another question although the proximity of this event to the GolfSixes has raised mumblings in some areas - “not another, why can’t we just stick to the normal stuff?” - rather than viewing it as a pleasant diversion

 

Head-to-head strokeplay brings to mind the Alfred Dunhill Cup which used that format in team play and ran from 1985-2000. Looking at the 1996 final, the United States won 2-1 as Frank Nobilo (69) beat Mark O’Meara (72) before Phil Mickelson (69) defeated Greg Turner (72) and Steve Stricker (67) saw off Grant Waite (73) in the decider.

 

The importance of match play form is questionable under this format as clearly every shot counts and you can’t just take stupid risks, a tactic that could be employed if the only punishment was to lose that particular hole.

 

Pieters is heavily involved, with his sister and brother-in-law actually promoting the event.

 

And in some nice symmetry, the last player to win a European Tour event in Belgium was Lee Westwood, Pieters’ partner in the 2016 Ryder Cup when the young Belgian finished as the event’s top scorer.

 

Because of the extra volatility of nine-hole contests over the weekend, the betting market shows the two favorites – Joost Luiten and Pieters – quoted at 30/1.

 

Unlike the GolfSixes, this event IS used for the official European Tour fantasy game this week.

 

 

The Course

 

Rinkven International in Antwerp was opened in 1981. From Europeantour.com: “Belgian golfer and golf coach Paul Rolin was responsible for the original Rinkven GC design, later expanded to the current 36-hole format. More recently, the well-known English architect Martin Hawtree (2008 renovations at Royal Birkdale) has made significant amendments to bring the two courses (North and South) up to modern championship standards.” It’s a mix of parkland and woodland with water in play on several holes and, at the time of writing, there are no yardage details listed. It staged the Challenge Tour’s 2010 Telenet Trophy, with England’s Lee Slattery powering to a four-shot win on 21-under. That year it was a par 72 measuring just 6,622 yards, featuring Poa Annua on the greens, fairways and rough. The tournament’s official website displays this week’s layout and a click on the hole-by-hole descriptions shows holes from both North and South Courses to make a composite track of par 72 with three par 5s, three par 3s and 12 par 4s.

 

 

The Leading Contenders

 

Joost Luiten

The Netherlands borders Belgium so Luiten will have lots of support this week. Since T11 at February’s Maybank Championship, his only finish outside the top 25 is T37 at the WGC-Mexico Championship. That run includes a victory in Oman and the Dutchman has stated since how much he wants another win to try and book a Ryder Cup debut. 12th in SG: Approach this season and he should like this parkland test. In fact, we know so. Rinkven staged the 2005 European Amateur Championship and Luiten finished T4 alongside a certain Rory McIlroy.

 

Thomas Pieters

The local hero although he has plenty on his plate this week. As Keith Waters, the European Tour’s Chief Operating Officer, notes: “Thomas really has been the driving force behind this tournament.” Pieters, himself, tweeted a few weeks ago: “After 1.5 years of preparations, @BelgianKnockout is almost a fact! #PietersProductions. With form of 66-MC-52-52 he needs a spark so, coming from another angle, perhaps this week will inspire him.

 

Jorge Campillo

The elusive first win won’t come but the Spaniard is in the form of his career with four top five finishes in his last five regular European Tour starts. He’s been high up on the All-Around stats for all those good efforts in China, Spain, Oman and the Maybank Championship and there seems no reason why he shouldn’t challenge again. 12th in SG: Putting. T13 in the 2005 European Amateur Championship at Rinkven.

 

Adrian Otaegui

A runner-up in China last time out and has now connected five straight top 20s since February.  The Spaniard offers plenty of extras too – he’s in the top 20 for SG: Tee-To-Green, was 12th in a Challenge Tour event on his last trip to Belgium and secured his only European Tour win under a different format when landing last year’s Paul Lawrie Match Play. His consistency is an obvious asset this week.

 

Jordan Smith

Following a sparkling rookie season which brought him a win at the Porsche European Open and T9 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, the Englishman struggled at the start of 2018. However, a top three in China last time (R4 64 and 2nd in All-Around) suggests gamers pay close attention to him again. Tied 12th at the Challenge Tour’s KPMG Trophy on his last trip to Belgium in 2015.

 

Mike Lorenzo-Vera

So close to a first European Tour win when losing a play-off to Joakim Lagergren at the Rocco Forte Open, the Frenchman struggled to fight back the tears in interview afterwards. Lorenzo-Vera shot middle rounds of 64-63 in Sicily while the previous week he’d shown his openness to different formats by helping France to the final of the GolfSixes. 1st in Putting Average in Sicily.

 

Andrea Pavan

In terms of four-round consistency, Pavan has few peers at the moment. He’s finished T21 or better in seven of his last eight starts, peaking with a top three at the Trophy Hassan II in Morocco last month. 26th in SG: Putting, has been hitting lots of greens and opened 65-69 on his last start in Belgium when T22 at the KPMG Trophy.

 

Lucas Herbert

Sixth in the Australian Open (not a ET event), T7 in the Aussie PGA and third in the World Super 6 Perth, The Aussie also showed he could flourish in mainland Europe when taking third spot at last week’s Rocco Forte Open when closing 66-63. 26th in SG: Tee-To-Green so he could be a sneaky pick if working the putting surfaces out.

 

Chris Wood

Known as a links specialist, Wood can thrive in parkland conditions too having won the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Reminded us of his talents when runner-up at the Oman Open but he’s been off the pace since March (48-54-MC). If he makes it to the weekend, Wood boasts plenty of head-to-head experience having played Seve Trophy, EurAsia Cup and the 2016 Ryder Cup.

 

Thomas Detry

A friend of Pieters since he was a boy, the two Belgians also spent a year together at college in America so he’ll be particularly keen to support his countryman and fly the flag for his home nation this week. Opened with twin 66s and finished T6 the last time he teed it up in Belgium (Challenge Tour’s KPMG Trophy in 2016) and took T19 in Morocco two starts ago. Told a European Tour player blog last year: “If I’m at home in Belgium I sometimes head over to Antwerp to say hi to Thomas and he sometimes comes to me in Brussels too. We just have a few drinks together and chill.”


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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