Novelty format could suit consistent Campillo and Otaegui
New course and structure provides plenty of punting pitfalls
Sky Sports Golf, 10am Thursday
Tournament starts 6.30am
After a brief interlude of conventional action in Sicily following the GolfSixes team event two weeks ago, the European Tour is dipping its toes into another novelty format this week with the Belgian Knockout.
Two conventional rounds will be played on Thursday and Friday before knockout nine-hole matches over the weekend will decide a winner, and while local Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters is the driving force behind the tournament, he is one of just three players in the world's top 100 who will be taking the challenge in Antwerp.
The picture is further clouded by matches taking place on two halves of the course which will reward proficiency in different skills, but there are players who head to the first European Tour event in Beligum for 18 years in decent form.
The knockout format means players will have to get into the semi-finals to reward their each-way backers, although many firms are betting to five places on the 36-hole leader market.
Wilkerson's top tip
Jorge Campillo 28-1
One of the trio in the top 100 is Spaniard Jorge Campillo, who has charged up the rankings from 211st at the start of the year to 87th after some excellent performances.
He has finished in the top 20 in six of his nine European Tour outings and although he has yet to claim a victory at this level, his second at the Maybank Championship and fourth in Oman suggests he can be a force in the lower-grade events.
However, Campillo has also been in the shake-up in more established tournaments lately having tied for fifth in his home Open and been third last time out in the China Open.
His statistics demonstrate that his all-round game is in excellent shape, which should come in handy in a test where various skills will be examined.
Campillo is ranked 24th in both stroke average and greens in regulation while his standing of 12th in strokes-gained putting means he knows his way around the greens.
He is not unfamiliar with the new course having finishing 15th at the European Amateur Championship in 2005 - Rory McIlroy was fourth - and in a tournament where much has to be taken at face value, the 31-year-old from Caceres ticks plenty of boxes.
Adrian Otaegui 25-1
Another Spaniard who is making a charge up the rankings is Adrian Otaegui, who was second in China on his last showing.
This is a player who has been ultra-consistent of late. His performance in the China Open was his fifth consecutive top 20 and he has not missed a cut since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October.
How it works
- The first two rounds will see 144 players play 36 holes of traditional stroke play with a cut on Friday evening leaving 64 players to compete over the weekend.
- Those 64 players will be divided into two equal groups of 32 players. Each match will be a one-on-on knockout over nine holes of stroke play.
- One half will play their matches on the front nine (South course) and the other will play on the back nine (North course).
- The loser of each match is eliminated and the winners advance to the next round.
- Round one starts on Saturday morning with 64 players, who will then be whittled down to 32 for round two, after which the final 16 will take part in round three.
- The final eight players will battle it out on Sunday in nine-hole matches of strokeplay with the last man standing the tournament champion.
- If scores are tied a playoff will decide the winner.
Just five of his 40 rounds this season have been higher than 72 and that is just the sort of consistency that this week's winner will have to show if he is to successfully navigate a string of nine-hole showdowns.
He is eighth in the greens-in-regulation stats and this solid performer can make a big impression in this sort of company.
Lucas Herbert 40-1
Phachara Khongwatmai 125-1
Lucas Herbert is just 22 and judging by the way the Australian finished last week's Rocco Forte Sicily Open, the big hitter from Bedingo, Victoria could have a bright future.
He shot seven birdies in his final 11 holes to finish just a shot shy of a playoff last week while playing on a sponsors' invite and he can take advantage of the fact he has been handed a similar arrangement this week.
Herbert finished seventh at the Australian PGA Championship and has put up a decent show in the two runnings of the World Super 6 Perth, where three conventional rounds are followed by a series of six-hole shootouts.
He is ranked 26th on the European Tour in strokes gained tee to green so he can find the targets in Antwerp and he has to be brimming with confidence after his performance last week.
In a wide-open tournament, it is also worth taking a shot that Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai can make an impression.
He was tied for 12th in his last outing on the Asian Tour at the Maekyung Open in South Korea and has made the cut in five of his seven European Tour outings this year, and he could come alive if he gets through to the knockout stages.
Khongwatmai sneaked into the matches stage of the World Super 6 Perth two years ago but was a revelation in that environment before losing to local favourite Brett Rumford.
The other three bets should be placed with Paddy Power and Betfair as they pay eight places, but the 125-1 for Khongwatmai, with a quarter the odds for a first-four spot, is better than the 60-1 chalked up by those two firms.
Others to note
The Belgian has taken an integral role in the tournament's organisation and will be desperate to do well. However, he has claimed just one top-20 finish in his last eight tournaments so a big showing is not a given.
Won in Oman earlier this year and has been consistent over the last few months. Finished fourth in the European Amateur Championship at the venue 13 years ago.
This is a course that is unlikely to play to his strengths. Was second in Turkey in November but hasn't looked like challenging since.
The Frenchman fell in a playoff in Sicily last week and performed well with Romain Wattel at the GolfSixes a fortnight ago so could shine in another novelty format.
Will be desperate to perform well with his defence of the BMW Championship at Wentworth just a week away but the Bristolian's recent form has been patchy.
1.5pts each-way 28-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
1.5pts each-way 25-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
1pt each-way 40-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
Course Rinkven International Golf Club, Antwerp, Belgium
Prize money €1m (€166,000 to the winner)
Length 6,924 yards Par 71 Field 144
When to bet By 6.30am Thursday
When to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf, 10am
Time difference Belgium is one hour ahead of the UK & Ireland
Last week - Rocco Forte Sicilian Open: 1 J Lagergren 50-1, 2 M Lorenzo-Vera 40-1, T3 L Herbert 100-1, A Sullivan 14-1, 5 L Bjerregaard 40-1
Course overview This is the first time in 18 years that the European Tour has visited Belgium and, two weeks after the GolfSixes at St Albans, is another novel experiment. There are two courses on the site and nine holes will be used from each during the tournament. They will be holes 1, 11 and 3 to 9 on the South course followed by the back nine on the North. It looks set to be an all-round test as the South is generally narrower while the North allows more space off the tee, which complicates the issue for punters as one half of the knockout rounds will be played on each half. The long par three second is over water but those hazards are more prevalent on the north side after the turn. The par-five fifth is a 90-degree dogleg which should still provide a birdie opportunity. The longest par five is the 17th at 568 yards and is likely to demand a three-shot effort into a small green. The course was used for the 2005 European Amateur Championship and the 2010 Challenge Tour event the Telenet Trophy.
Weather forecast The tournament should get off to a bright, dry start before a cloudier second day. Rain is expected early on Saturday but should not last long and the final day should be the best of the week with temperatures peaking at about 22C.
Type of player suited to the challenge Every aspect of the players' talent will have to be tested, mainly because wayward drivers should enjoy the north half of the round more than the south half. The novel system will have to be conquered but if that was a problem then players would probably take the week off. The champion will also have to play 90 holes, so that will be demanding.
Key attribute Accuracy