European Tour, 29 May 2019: The second edition of the Belgian Knockout begins this week at Rinkven International Golf Club in Antwerp. Before the action begins, get yourself up to speed on the ins and outs of this exciting format. SSP Chawrasia and Gaganjeet Bhullar are both in action too.
The first two days of the Belgian Knockout will see a full field of competitors compete under traditional strokeplay rules as they battle it out to be one of the 64 players who advance to the exciting head-to-head knockout stages. This year, the field will be divided into two draws, with 32 players from each half advancing to the weekend. If there are any ties for the final spots, separate play-offs will be used to determine the top 32 players from each draw.
The 64 successful qualifiers will be seeded 1-64 in accordance with their 36-hole stroke play results regardless of which section of the draw they come from and compete in knockout medal match play over nine holes. For the first Knockout round only, if a match involving the top 16 seeds is tied, these players will go through to the second Knockout without the need of a play-off. All other tied matches in the first Knockout round and any further knockout rounds will be decided by a hole by hole play-off. This key difference adds both excitement and intrigue to the competition as no lead is safe, and every match will come down the final hole. If the match is tied after nine holes, the players will continue on until the tie is broken.
Two down to one up in a single hole
With no gimmies and no maximum score, changes in momentum can come without warning in head-to-head strokeplay matches. One moment from last year’s inaugural Belgian Knockout perfectly highlighted the exciting volatility of this format. In the round of 16, Victor Perez was two strokes down to Oliver Fisher with only three holes left to play. In match play, it would have been all but over, but such is not the case at the Belgian Knockout. Perez astoundingly holed his second-shot approach from the fairway on the par four seventh hole of the Yellow Course. The eagle moved him from two over par to level, while his opponent Oliver Fisher bogeyed the same hole to move from level par to one over. The three-shot swing moved the Frenchman from two down to one up in just a single hole, and he held on to win the match by one shot. How many matches will be stolen by a spectacular shot this year?
Last year, Adrian Otaegui and Benjamin Hebert were the last men standing as they squared off in a thrilling Belgian Knockout finale. Both players showed early nerves when they bogeyed the first hole, but it was Hebert who bounced back quickly, when he birdied the second hole. Otaegui drew level when he birdied the fourth hole and after both players parred the fifth, it was all to play for down the stretch. It was the Spaniard who ultimately answered the bell when, just like a prize fighter, he landed a powerful combination—three straight birdies to take a two stroke lead into the decisive final hole. Otaegui did not blink down the last, and sealed victory in the final match with a par. The win was Otaegui’s second on the European Tour, and further bolstered his head-to-head credentials as it added to his first win, which came at the Paul Lawrie Match Play in 2017.
A family affair
Pieters Productions returns as promoter of the Belgian Knockout for a second straight year. The firm is run by the family of Ryder Cup star, and native Belgian, Thomas Pieters. Pieters Productions is operated by Thomas’ two siblings, Lieselotte Pieters and Pieter-Jan Pieters, their respective spouses, Jeremy Anciaux and Celine Jacobs, as well as parents Jacques and Veronique Pieters. Playing on home-soil in an event he has helped to elevate, and having won the ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf alongside countryman Thomas Detry, you can be sure that there will be support for Pieters this week. Detry will also be in the field as well as ‘Miracle at Medinah’ Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts.