Spain’s Adrian Otaegui shows punch, captures Belgian Knockout

ANTWERPEN, BELGIUM - MAY 20: Adrian Otaegui of Spain poses with the trophy and the volunteers after beating Benjamin Hebert during their final match to win the tournament on the final day of the Belgian Knockout at Rinkven International Golf Club on May 20, 2018 in Antwerpen, Belgium. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) Warren Little/Getty Images

Spain’s Adrian Otaegui shows punch, captures Belgian Knockout

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Spain’s Adrian Otaegui shows punch, captures Belgian Knockout

Adrian Otaegui is looking to make his Ryder Cup debut this year after winning his second European Tour event. The 25-year-old Spaniard won the inaugural Belgian Knockout by defeating France’s Benjamin Hebert by two holes in the nine-hole knockout stroke-play final.

Otaegui is becoming a bit of a specialist in knockout-format events. He adds the Belgian title to the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play he won last year.

The San Sebastian native picked up a check for $196,000 to move to 14th on the European money list. Hebert earned $131,000. Scotland’s David Drysdale finished third by defeating one-time Augusta State player James Heath in the consolation match.

Otaegui arrived in Belgium in form. He began this year with five consecutive top-20 finishes, including runner-up in the Volvo China Open in his previous start, and will move inside the world top 80. There’s another table he’s keeping a keen eye on: the European points list for Ryder Cup qualification.

The two-time winner Otaegui moves to 23rd on the European points list. He likely must finish in the top four to earn an automatic place on the team. With a slew of big-money events coming up, including this week’s BMW PGA Championship, Otaegui has his sights set on playing in the biennial match.

“I’ve started pretty well for the moment,” Otaegui said. “I’m just looking forward to focus on the Rolex Series next, some big events coming up, and I just want to focus on that and there’s still a lot of season ahead. The season is still very long, but I’m looking for Ryder Cup.”

A Spaniard, Otaegui has a lot of motivation to make this year’s team. He played junior golf in Fuenterrabía, near San Sebastian. It was there he met Ryder Cup star Jose Maria Olazabal, the two-time Masters winner who was born and raised in Fuenterrabía. He mentored Otaegui as a junior and continues to influence his career.

No wonder Otaegui wants to follow in Olazabal’s footsteps and make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team that takes on the United States in September at Le Golf National in Paris.

Otaegui defeated Erik van Rooyen, Maximilian Kieffer, Matthew Southgate, No. 1 seed Jorge Campillo and Drysdale to reach the final. He did so with a very simple formula.

“I just tried to play against myself,” he said. “Obviously, your opponent is just next to you, but I just tried to focus on my game, stroke play, and so that’s what I tried to do.

“I’m very happy, very relaxed now after the last nine holes against Ben that were very tight. I think we both played very good golf, and I’m just very proud about my week.”

Hebert was looking for his first European Tour victory to go with six Challenge Tour wins.

“Adrian is a very good player, especially in this kind of format,” the 31-year-old said. “He’s already won one tournament in match play last year, but I did my best.

“I was a bit tired for the final, but there is a lot of positive things to learn about this week and that’s good. This format is very fun, it puts you under pressure almost every hole because everything can happen. I think it’s a great idea.”

Tournament host and favorite Thomas Pieters lost to Kieffer in the round of 64. Nicolas Colsaerts raised the hopes of a home winner for Belgian fans when he reached the quarterfinals, but the 2012 Ryder Cup player lost to Heath. Gwk

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