After a break of four years, the DP World Tour returns to Belgium for the Soudal Openwhich is officially a return to the schedule of the Belgian Open.
First played in 1910 and won by Frenchman, Arnaud Massy, the Belgian Open has been staged only intermittently since.
Lee Westwood won two editions in 1998 and 2000 but it dropped off the DP World Tour schedule after his second win 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 staged 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.
Rinkven International Golf Club, Antwerp.
Par 71, 6,924 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 – 71.9
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 website goes on to describe the course used 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 12 years ago but it measured just shy of 6,700 yards with a par of 71 for the two knockout renewals and the greens were described as bentgrass rather than poa.
For more on the venue, please see Andy Swales piece here.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. Starting at 12:00 on Thursday.
What Will it Take to Win the Soudal Open?
We’re up against it this week with so little to go on. Slattery’s win was a long time ago and when the course was last used the format was funky but accuracy was the key to successrather than power.
The 2019 winner, Guido Migliozziranked second for Greens In Regulation and the runner-up in 2018, Benjamin Hebert, ranked first for that stat.
None of the eight players to reach the semi-finals in each of the two Belgium Knockouts hit it far off the tee and accurate types thrived.
Is There an Angle In?
As Matt Cooper highlights as he makes a case for the recent Kenya Open winner, Ashun Wu herethis is track where players that have prospered on tight layouts have thrived.
Wu is a logical pick given the man he overhauled on Sunday in Kenya, Ewan Fergusonwas a beaten semi-finalist when Migliozzi won here in 2019 And Migliozzi endorses form in Kenya too.
The Italian won his Kenya Open at Karen, whereas Wu won his at Muthaiga but both courses are short, tight, tree-lined layouts.
Last week’s venue, the Belfryand Valderrama, may also correlate nicely with this venue but the event that kept cropping up when I was digging around was the Austrian Openeven though the host course, the Jeremy Pern designed Diamond Course, isn’t a tight tree-lined venue.
The 2018 winner, Otaegui, finished second at the Diamond Course in 2016 (to Ashun Wu), the 2019 runner-up, Darius van Driel, finished fourth in Austria a year later, the 2018 runner-up, Benjamin Hebert, was sixth in Austria ten years ago and the 2010 winner here, Lee Slattery, finished fourth in Austria in 2014 and ninth the year before.
That’s quite a correlation given the caliber of those players and how seldomly they all place.
Assuming it’s the same layout as used in 2018 and 2019, the start is straightforward and the par fifth fifth is an easy hole (averaged 4.46 in 2019) but there’s a tough stretch after that with holes six, seven, eight, nine and ten ranking as the fourth, fifth, 11th, third and first in terms of toughness three years ago.
With so many unknowns this week, one way to play the event is to wait until Sunday and to lay anyone that goes odds-on.
Obviously, there’s a chance that whoever goes odds-on just kicks on and wins and it’ll prove a costly exercise but, as highlighted in yesterday’s De-briefwe’ve seen three players trade at long odds-on in each of the last two events and it’s often a good strategy to adopt on this Tour.
Belgium’s Thomas Pieters is playing here for a third time but he looks opposable. He missed the cut here on the Challenge Tour in 2010, got knocked out early in the 2018 Belgian Knockout, and he missed the cut again a year later.
Thomas is playing in the US PGA Championship next week in Oklahoma so this is a chance to find his game ahead of this year’s second major but with form figures reading 12-24-MC-32-MC-26-MC since he won in Abu Dhabi in January, I’m happy to leave him out.
Bernd Wiesberger makes more appeal given he shot 64 in round two in 2019 to make the knock phase, where he eventually lost in the quarter-finals but he needs to improve his putting considerably to contend.
He’s put up negative strokes gained figures in every event this year so far and he’s ranked 77th, 78th, 71st, 72nd and 66th for Strokes gained Putting on the last five occasions he’s made the cut.
I’ve looked at form in Kenya and Austria and I’m going with two modest wagers before the off. And I’ll have one more for the Find Me a 100 Winner column later today or tomorrow.
I’m following Matt in with Ashun Wuwho’s a juicy price at 80.079/1 on the exchange and I’ve backed last week’s runner-up, Sebastian Soderberg.
Soderberg could very easily suffer from a bit of mental let-down after last week’s disappointment, but he won the 2016 Kenya Open at Karen Country Club and he finished tied for 11th after the stroke play element of the 2019 Belgian Knockout, shooting rounds of 67 and 69 when badly out of form at the time.
Ashun Wu @ 80.079/1
Sebastian Soderberg @ 80.079/1
* You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter