Richie Ramsay can capitalise on his good run of form and win the Belgian Knockout according to golf expert Ben Coley.
Reading back through last year’s preview of the Belgian Knockout, I’m struck by just how much guesswork was required. For all the European Tour have produced some award-winning content over the last year or two, there was a basic and undeniable failure in communicating the nuts and bolts of a brand new event to those whose interest is all but guaranteed.
Of course, the basic goal here is to attract a new audience, but despite the best intentions of organisers – include the Pieters family – and the bright-eyed, blue-sky-thinking brainstormers of Belgium, I would suggest that it was you, me and the other golf psychopaths who tuned in for Benjamin Hebert versus Adrian Otaegui in the inaugural final.
Despite the confusion over scoring and seedings and composite nines, the formula for finding the winner, and indeed the runner-up, was as simple as had been hoped. When the first goal is to make the weekend, the second to win a series of nine-hole head-to-head matches, siding with a player who hadn’t missed a cut in six months and whose sole previous win came in a knockout event was about as obvious as it gets.
Runner-up Hebert, meanwhile, is Otaegui-lite. Both rely on accuracy rather than power, both churn out greens in regulation – last year’s stats show Hebert in 22nd and Otaegui in 23rd – and both avoid mistakes more than most. As such a short, turning, parkland course like the composite layout at Rinkven International was manna from heaven and so was the format, with stroke play head-to-head offering no hiding place for the wild.
You can throw in beaten semi-finalist and eventual third David Drysdale for good measure and I see no reason to abandon the formula one year on. The search is for a steady, straight, ideally in-form player who should firstly make the top 64 – required to qualify for the weekend – and then churn out pars and the odd birdie from there.
Top of the list is Richie Ramsay, who fits all of the above criteria.
The Scot arrives on the back of three top-15 finishes in succession, his upturn in form coinciding with a change in caddie but also a return to the sort of courses on which he makes his money.
Ramsay is a player who might have been among the best around had he been born in a different era, where accuracy and shot-making were more valued. Instead, he faces an uphill battle against powerful opponents and it's only when faced with a test of accuracy or decision-making that he really comes alive.
Wins in Switzerland (2012) and Morocco (2015) came under such circumstances and as a former US Amateur champion who is at his best when his back is against the wall, this sort of tournament looks ideal for him.
To illustrate the point, last year, when not playing as well as he is now, Ramsay made the knockout section before bumping into Nicolas Colsaerts.
That goes down as a rough draw under any circumstances given that Belgian fans hadn’t seen European Tour golf since the turn of the century and that Colsaerts has a Ryder Cup pedigree. Then consider that of the 64 players in action that Saturday morning, only five bettered Ramsay’s score, and you’ll see that he was simply unlucky.
In regular match play, taking scorecards and applying them to other matches with their own dynamics is questionable, but this is head-to-head stroke play and Ramsay played well enough to advance from all bar a handful of the 32 first-round ties. I’d suggest, then, that he very much took to Rinkven.
With a short-game which looks as good as it has in a long time and his customarily strong ball-striking on display throughout the China Open, British Masters and Made In Denmark, Ramsay looks an outstanding candidate on his return. Here’s to better luck and the putter staying warm enough.
Belgian Knockout: The format
- Full field plays two rounds of stroke play
- Top 64 advance to weekend knockout - others miss the cut
- Those remaining are seeded in order of finishing position
- Then it's head-to-head knockout over nine holes of stroke play
Romain Langasque is the most promising player in the field and among the most in-form, too, but Matthias Schwab is right behind him in both senses and looks a better bet here given his skill set.
The Austrian, who ought to be inspired by Bernd Wiesberger’s success last week, has quickly established himself as an accurate, reliable operator at this level and it’s one he’ll leave behind soon enough, as will Langasque.
Last year he made the knockout rounds and was a little unfortunate to go out at the last-32 stage, Oli Fisher first forcing a play-off with a birdie at the ninth before matching Schwab’s at the next and finally advancing in one of the closest matches of the week.
Schwab has another year of European Tour golf under his belt now and it includes contending last week in Denmark, where he ranked second in overall accuracy and led the field in ball-striking.
That looks to be the formula for success here in Belgium, more so than at Himmerland, and having made nine cuts in 11 starts this year he’s about as reliable as they come in a field like this one.
Given that the course looks made for him, Schwab has to be worth chancing.
Guido Migliozzi won on a tree-lined course in Kenya and has really impressed since. It’s quite rare for a youngster to triumph from out of the blue and then immediately churn out decent performances. More common would be to fall off the radar quickly and he looks one to keep on-side as a consequence.
The Italian might be worth backing should he reach the latter stages as he’s proven to be exceptionally tenacious so far, while those with a keen eye on the Sunshine Tour will respect J.C. Ritchie’s rise on that circuit and two wins in his last five starts is clearly very strong form.
Both are respected, but aside from Schwab I quite like the idea of siding with experience here so next on the list is Matthew Southgate.
So far in his career, Southgate has proven to be most comfortable on links courses, but within this field there might not be a more accurate driver and Rinkven does look a good fit for him.
Last year he showed as much with a bogey-free 67 to reach the knockout rounds and then winning two of them, only to bump into the eventual winner in the last 16.
Despite losing to Otaegui, Southgate carded the third-best score of the 16 remaining players and after a slow start on Thursday, he was the leader in the field when it comes to avoiding bogeys or worse.
That’ll serve him well should he again make the weekend and having made a fast start en route to ninth place in Denmark last week, I expect him to do just that.
Of those at three-figure prices, Joakim Lagergren did enough last week to merit a second glance along with Edoardo Molinari and Daan Huizing, but it’s back to those driving accuracy charts for the final two selections.
At his best, Alejandro Canizares is an exceptionally straight driver and he showed as much when finishing alongside Southgate in ninth place on Sunday.
The Spaniard loves a parkland test such as this one – his home course is Valderrama, after all – and it’s perhaps significant that he lost to Otaegui at the semi-final stage of the Paul Lawrie Match Play a couple of summers ago in neighbouring Germany on a similar layout.
Having reached the quarter-finals a year earlier, it’s clear that on the right course and in the right company, knockout golf appeals to a player who has long been in the ‘streaky’ category.
Finishing ninth in Denmark ought to be the start of a strong summer as he’s been catching the eye on a regular basis since last September and is far too good to be stuck between tours, so Canizares gets the vote at around the 100/1 mark.
Finally, Richard McEvoy has shown enough to suggest that he could double up following last year’s long-awaited breakthrough in Germany.
The Englishman climbed the leaderboard over the second and third rounds in Denmark last week, just as he had at Hillside, and this relative ease in grade might be the final piece of the puzzle.
Certainly, he has the right type of accuracy-based game for the venue and last year’s performance offers encouragement, as he progressed well until bumping into the classy Jorge Campillo.
McEvoy had been in miserable form beforehand, a sign perhaps that he enjoyed the format, but most certainly that he took to the course. One year on and he's far better qualified.
Posted at 2045 BST on 27/05/19.