We're off to Belgium on the European Tour this week, for the first time since the turn of the century. Our man has the lowdown on the brand-new Belgian Knockout here...
"Steady types that can keep the ball in play and nurse an early lead will probably fare much better than the more gung-ho individuals that like to take risks. I envisage a lot of knockout matches being won by the early leaders that can protect what they have. Players that will be more than happy to let their opponents take risks to catch them up."
For the first time in 18 years, since Lee Westwood won the final edition of the Belgian Open at Royal Zoute, the European Tour makes a welcome return to Belgium with the Belgian Knockout - a brand-new tournament with a brand-new format.
A field of 144 will play regulation stroke play over the first two days, just like any other normal European Tour event, but things change considerably over the weekend.
The cut is made on Friday night with the top-64 players progressing to the nine-hole stroke play knockout phase. The 64 will be divided into two groups of 32 and they'll then compete in 'one on one' stroke play matches over nine holes. Each match will alternate between the front and back nine and the losing player will be eliminated.
There will be three rounds of nine-hole stroke play matches on Saturday, reducing the field down to eight, and three rounds on Sunday - the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. Each nine-hole match will be played in stroke play format and in the event of a draw, the two competitors will playoff to decide who progresses or in the case of the final, who wins the tournament.
Rinkven International Golf Club, Antwerp.
Rinkven has been in existence since the early 1980s. Originally designed by Belgian golfer and coach, Paul Rolin, the venue has undergone a series of changes and it's expanded to include to 18 hole courses - the North and the South.
According to the event's website, the venue is set in "a wonderfully peaceful area of natural "Kempense" fenland just 15km outside the city of Antwerp". The courses are described as a "mixture of woodland and parkland holes with water coming in play on several holes".
Rinkven was described as an exposed, flat, parkland course with poa annua tees, fairways and greens with a par of 72 and a really short yardage of just 6,622 when it was used to stage the now defunct Telenet Trophy (won by Lee Slattery by four in -21) on the Challenge Tour eight years ago but whether the layout has changed considerably or not is as yet unknown.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at midday on Thursday.
What Will it Take to Win the Belgian Knockout?
A brand-new format on a course not seen before will have just about everyone scratching their heads (including yours truly) but I do wonder whether stamina could come in to play this week.
It's not going to be hot so that'll help, but anyone going all the way to the final will finish up playing five full rounds in four days, including three over the weekend - a round and a half on Saturday and the same on Sunday. That's going to be especially taxing in this format so we might be wise to expect a calm individual and possibly one with youth on their side.
Is There an Angle In?
With it being stroke play, it's hard to know just how important a match play pedigree is going to be here. It's going to differ greatly from what we're used to as players won't just lose one hole if they have a disaster, they'll probably lose the entire match.
Steady types that can keep the ball in play and nurse an early lead will probably fare much better than the more gung-ho individuals that like to take risks. I envisage a lot of knockout matches being won by the early leaders that can protect what they have. Players that will be more than happy to let their opponents take risks to catch them up.
It's always nice to back a winner before the off at a tasty price and there are some attractive prices about for some quality players but it makes sense to keep most of your powder dry for the weekend.
Not only will that mean you won't waste money on players that don't even make the knockout phase, it'll also give you a chance to see who's playing well and who might be worth opposing. Anyone making the weekend will obviously shorten up but with 64 players still in with a chance, I don't expect anyone to be slashed too dramatically.
Keep an eye on the market on Friday afternoon. Finishing first or 64th will result in progression to the knockout phase when everyone starts again, and I just wonder if all the layers will be aware of the format. It's perfectly possible that those towards the front of the leaderboard will be trading too short and those bobbing about in around 50th place will be too big.
It'll be worth watching the first knockout round to see how many players recover from being down as that may or may not be an angle in for the next round or for subsequent editions.
Joost Luiten has been playing well of late, ranking 11th for Total Accuracy over the last three months, and he won't lack for support. Hordes of Luiten fans will surely make the short hop from the Netherlands and the track looks ideal for him. He's a worthy favourite.
Home hero, Thomas Pieters, needs to get a shift on if wants to guarantee his place in Thomas Bjorn's Ryder Cup team in Paris in September and where better to start than at home. There's already been money for the big-hitting Belgian and I can see why but hosting the event, which his sister and brother-in-law are running, won't help and I'm not entirely convinced the format will be ideal either.
The accurate Spanish pair of Adrian Otaegui and Jorge Campillo are next up in the betting and both are logical looking propositions. I prefer the former, who won the Paul Lawrie Match Play in Germany last August and who narrowly lost out to Alexander Bjork in China recently but a relaxed affair like this might be ideal for the talented Campillo to finally get off the mark.
We've already seen seven players win on the European Tour for the first time this season and this looks a perfect opportunity for someone else to get their first title so I'm going to throw a few pounds at the experienced 27-year-old German, Max Kieffer.
Kieffer's forte is tee-to-green accuracy (ranks second for Total Accuracy over the last three months) so if he can make the weekend, he could be a frustrating opponent in this format and I can see him proving hard to beat.
Max Kieffer @ [75.0]
I'll be back later with my AT&T Byron Nelson preview.
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