The Punter

Soudal Open: Italian pair chanced in Belgium

Golfer Simon Forsstrom
The defending champion Simon Forsstrom

The DP World Tour stops off in Belgium this week for the Soudal Open and Steve Rawlings is here with the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start...


Tournament History

First played in 1910 and won by Frenchman Arnaud Massy, the Belgian Open - now known as the Soudal Open - has been staged only intermittently since its inception.

Lee Westwood won two editions in 1998 and 2000 but it dropped off the DP World Tour schedule after that before returning 18 years later in a different format.

The Belgian Knockout - a match play/stroke play hybrid tournament - was staged only twice but it was at this year's venue - Rinkven International.

Spain's Adrian Otaegui beat Benjamin Herbert in the 2018 final and Guido Migliozzi comfortably disposed of Darius van Driel in the 2019 final.

After another break of a couple of years, the Soudal Open returned to the schedule two years ago as a regulation 72-hole stroke play event won by Sam Horsfield with a 13-under-par total.


Venue

Rinkven International Golf Club, Antwerp


Course Details

Par 71, 6,940 yards
Stroke Average in 2023 - 70.51

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 two 18 hole courses - the North and the South. This week's course is a composite of the two.

According to the event's website back in 2019, the venue is set in "a wonderfully peaceful area of natural 'Kempense' fenland just 15 km outside the city of Antwerp". The course used is a "mixture of woodland and parkland holes with water coming in play on several holes".

RINKVEN 2023 3.jpg

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 14 years ago. But it now measures just shy of 6,700 yards with a par of 71 and the smaller than average greens have been changed from poa to bentgrass.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at midday on Thursday


Last Two Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2023 - Simon Forsstrom -17 150.0149/1

2022 - Sam Horsfield -13 26.025/1


What Will it Take to Win the Soudal Open?

None of the eight players to reach the semi-finals in each of the two Belgium Knockouts staged here hit it far off the tee and accurate types thrived.

With tree-lined fairways that all made sense but if the stats from the last two renewals can be believed, it's a different story in this format.

The first three home in 2022 ranked 58th, 23rd and 61st for Driving Accuracy and last year's 1-2-3 ranked 62nd, 41st and 55th.

The 2019 winner in the funky format, Guido Migliozzi, ranked second for Greens In Regulation and the runner-up in 2018, Benjamin Hebert, ranked first for that stat. That was a key metric again in 2022, with the front three ranking 15th, seventh and 12th, but Forsstrom ranked only 16th last year and three of the top-six ranked in the 50s for GIR.

Forsstrom ranked first for Scrambling and the best three scramblers all finished inside the top-eight two years ago, and that all makes sense given the smaller than average putting surfaces.


Is There an Angle In?

Despite last year's Driving Accuracy stats, this is track where players who have prospered on tight layouts have thrived.

Otaegui, who won here in 2018, was a very impressive winner of the Andalucía Masters at Valderrama in 2021. Form at both Karen Country Club and Muthaiga in Kenya has come to the fore too. All three venues are fiddly tree-lined tracks.

For the last two years, the Kenya Open has been staged at Muthaiga, and this year's winner there, Darius van Driel, was runner-up here in the Belgium Knockout. The man who beat him in the final, Guido Migliozzi, won the Kenya Open at Karen before he won here in 2019.

The 2022 winner of this event, Horsfield, who now plays on the LIV circuit, finished eighth in the Kenya Open and third in the Kenya Savannah Classic at Karen in consecutive weeks in March 2021.

The British Masters venue, the Belfry, also correlates nicely. Migliozzi lost a playoff there three years ago and last year's winner, Thorbjorn Olesen, was third here last year. But the event that kept cropping up when I was digging around was the Austrian Open, even though the host course, the Jeremy Pern designed Diamond Course, isn't a tight tree-lined venue.

adrian otaegui golfer.jpg

The 2018 winner here, Otaegui, finished second at the Diamond Course in 2016. The 2019 runner-up here, Darius van Driel, finished fourth in Austria a year later. The 2018 runner-up, Benjamin Hebert, was sixth in Austria 12 years ago and the 2010 winner here, Lee Slattery, finished fourth in Austria in 2014 and ninth the year before.

Simon Wakefield never won on the DP World Tour but the year before he lost a playoff to Kenneth Ferrie in Austria, he finished sixth behind Slattery here on the Challenge Tour. Back in ninth was Robert Dinwiddie, who has a third and 10th to his name around the Diamond Course.

That's quite a strong link given the calibre of all those players, and how seldomly they all place, and it's been boosted by each of the last two winners here, who have both played nicely in Austria on the only occasion that they've played the Diamond Course.


Horsfield was 15th at the last renewal of the Austrian Open three years ago, having only just made the cut (sat tied for 62nd at halfway) and Forsstrom also finished 15th there in 2017, after starting the year with four consecutive missed cuts. And other than a second-place finish on the Challenge Tour, that 15th placed finish was his best effort of the year.


Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2023 - Simon Forsstrom - led by one 3.3512/5

2022 - Sam Horsfield - solo second, trailing by one 4.216/5


In-Play Tactics

With only three stroke play events having been played here, we don't have much data to work with but up with the pace looks the place to be here.

Horsfield was in the van throughout, sitting tied first after rounds one and two and solo second, trailing by just one, after the third round and the top-six sat T1, T6, T6, T6, T6 and T21 at halfway and 2, 1, 3, T4, T8 and T21 after three rounds.

Forsstrom won wire-to-wire last year, while the runner-up, Jens Dantorp, was inside the top-four all week long. Slattery led after every round when winning here on the Challenge Tour in 2010.


Market Leaders

Jordan Smith is just edging Adrian Otaegui at the head of the market and that's probably based on how they both fared at last week's US PGA Championship, but I'd have it the other way around.

Smith signed of the week in Kentucky with a seven-under-par 64 on Sunday to climb into a tie for 24th, whereas the Spaniard failed to make the weekend.

With rounds of 70 and 72, Smith didn't make it to the knockout stage of the Belgium Knockout back in 2018 and this is his first outing at Rinkven since.

Course winner, Otaegui, may have missed the cut last week but prior to that he won the China Open from off the pace and that was his fifth DP World Tour win since 2017.

Smith won his first title in 2017 too, somewhat fortunately at the Porsche European Open (Alex Levy traded at 1.011/100) and his only win since came at the Portugal Masters in October 2022.

The Spaniard is also far better in-contention than the Englishman.

The 2022 runner-up, Yannik Paul, arrives in fair form having finished 10th in India, 36th in Japan and 11th last time out behind Otaegui in China and the home here, Thomas Pieters commands respect given his latest run of form on the LIV Golf Tour.

He's put up form figures reading 9-14-5 and he was ninth here on his last visit in 2022.


Selections

I'm in complete agreement with Matt Cooper, with regards to Guido Migliozzi, and I've also backed another of his three picks, Matteo Manassero, who was going to be a pick for the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

Matt lays out a great case for the course winner, Migliozzi, who played well yesterday in Surrey, where he just missed out on qualification for the US Open at Walton Heath, and yesterday's qualifier is one of the reasons there's been so much money for fellow Italian, Manassero.

guido migliozzi ddc.jpg

Since winning the Jonsson Workwear Open in South Africa in March, Manassero has put up form figures reading MC-5-MC-23 so he's been a bit hit and miss but he'll be in good heart this week after Monday's US Open qualification.


Now read my Charles Schwab Challenge preview


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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