Open de France preview

This week the European Tour stops at the 2018 Ryder Cup venue, Le Golf National for this year’s renewal of the Open de France.

The inaugural staging of the Open de France was in 1906, making it the oldest national open in Continental Europe. It has always been a key part of the European Tour, and last year celebrated its 100th edition in 2016.

A stellar field nearly always assembles for this event, due to its history and also its slot on the schedule (just before Open Championship). Last year however, the event had to deal with running alongside the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational which was moved due to the Olympics in Rio.

Recent winners

2016 – Thongchai Jaidee (-11) Greens in Regulation rank: 18th Scrambling rank: 2nd

2015 – Bernd Wiesberger (-13) Greens in Regulation rank: 2nd Scrambling rank: 3rd

2014 – Graeme McDowell (-5) Greens in Regulation rank: 22nd Scrambling rank: 15th

2013 – Graeme McDowell (-9) Greens in Regulation rank: 1st Scrambling rank: 2nd

2012 – Marcel Siem (-8) Greens in Regulation rank: 3rd Scrambling rank: 4th

The Course and what it takes to win around here

Le Golf National, 7,249 Yards, Par 71

Le Golf National has played host to this event 24 times, first staging its home open in 1991. In 1999 the event moved to Golf du Medoc for one year and in 2001 it was played at the Lyon Golf Club (Sangliers Course) but the event has remained at Le Golf National ever since.

How you play off the tee here doesn’t tend to be the strongest indicator but I would favour accuracy over distance, due to the amount of greens you must hit in order to win here.

If you do miss the greens, you best be at the top of your game with your wedges as Scrambling is a vital part of winning this event. Of the last five winners, only McDowell (second time around) has ranked outside the top-4 for Scrambling.

Given that average rank of the winner in both Greens in Regulation (9.2) and Scrambling (5.2) over the last five renewals, it is clear these are the two vital statistics here at Le Golf National. By contrast the average rank for Driving Distance is 30.2, Driving Accuracy 20.2 and Putting Average 16.8, so GIR and Scrambling are by far and away to most important.

You can tell by the last five winning scores that this no birdie fest, so steady scoring throughout the week is essential. Martin Kaymer (2009) and Eduardo Romero (2005) both hold the course record here (62) but given how many years have passed without seeing that number again, coupled with the renovations made to the course last year ahead of next year’s Ryder Cup, I don’t expect to see such a low number this week.

Last year, Francesco Molinari took the honours for the lowest round of the week, firing a 66 in the final round to really put the pressure on Jaidee however the winner held firm. Jaidee was steady all week, opening with a 67 and closing the weekend with a pair of 68’s. His Friday round of 70 was his worst round by two shots, but that was still an under par round and that is how you get it done around this course.

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It is no great surprise to see a lot of those who have played for Europe in the Ryder Cup as well as those hoping to make their debut next year. Jon Rahm makes his European Tour debut and headlines a very strong field where almost all of the top-20 in the betting are made up of those players with the 2018 Ryder Cup in their sights.

The pressure of trying to impress captain, Thomas Bjorn on the course which will be holding the event next year could have very different effects on these players. Some will thrive fuelled by their desperation to make an impression, whilst others may simply try too hard, leading to them abandoning their normal strategy here. The best thing these players can do is play their natural game and hope that is enough to post a top-5/10/20 finish in order to flash up on Bjorn’s radar.

Even without the Ryder Cup side-show adding to the drama this week, this event is always a top notch affair and it is a week I am looking forward to.

With all the above in mind, here are my picks for the 2017 Open de France.

Alex Noren 20/1 (General) 2pts e/w:

I do not understand how Alex Noren, the #8 ranked golfer in the world is 20/1 this week especially at a course he has shown glimpses of form at in recent years.

In his last three starts at this course, Noren has an 8th and a 15th either side of a missed cut, but it is his five wins in the last year that really peak my interest.

Everyone knew Noren had the ability, but injuries and inconsistency had plagued his career up until now. To take his game to a whole new level, Noren needs to do it on the biggest stages. He has won prestigious European Tour events but now he will want to win on the PGA Tour, contend in majors regularly and also play in the Ryder Cup, which again may work in his favour this week.

Over his career, Noren has proved he is a golfer who can lose form just as quick as he found it. Now this is as much to do with his injury problems as it is anything else but it has to be considered. After winning the Nordea Masters in 2015 he went 8 events without finishing higher than T35. What Noren can’t afford to do now is fall of the rails after a ridiculous 12 months, where he has shown he absolutely deserves to tee it up here as part of Team Europe in 2018.

Despite his play over the last year, his Ryder Cup spot is by no means guaranteed, as no points are awarded until August of this year. Should he suffer a slump as he has done over his career after wins, he may fail to take advantage of his good form.

What the Swede must do then this week is put in another stellar performance on the course that will host the Ryder Cup next year, a start after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. This not only enhance is reputation further but will also leave a lasting reminder in Captain Bjorn’s mind. It will also prove his ready to bounce back from the disappointment he endured at Erin Hills, where he was no doubt expecting to contend.

Noren missed the cut at last year’s U.S. Open before finishing 8th here and i can see him doing similar here and then some. I fully expect him to contend this week as he hunts down win number 10 on the European Tour.

He ranks 2nd in Scrambling and 8th in Greens in Regulation this season, so his game is shaping up perfectly for this event.

At 20/1 it was a tossup between him and Bernd Wiesberger and in the end I opted for the man who I believe has a stronger chance of winning rather than placing. Wiesberger is in exceptional form and has won both here and in recent weeks, but I do believe Noren is the more likely of the two, with the former having perhaps a better mentality in contention.

Jamie Donaldson 70/1 (PaddyPower 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:

Donaldson has struggled enormously with both form and fitness since that fateful Sunday at Gleneagles. You would be forgiven for not remembering it was in fact Donaldson who secured the winning point for Europe at the 2014 Ryder Cup.

In recent weeks however, he has shown some solid form and it is now time to give the Welshman a chance at a course he has enjoyed over the years.

In three of his last four starts at Le Golf National, Donaldson has finished inside the top-20 and on two of those occasions he has also finished inside the top-6. A missed cut on his last effort here puts a dampener on things slightly, but he had missed 3 of his last 5 cuts heading into the event last year.

This time around though, Donaldson looks in better shape. His 7th place finish at the Nordea Masters two starts ago was his best effort since winning the Thailand Golf Championship in December 201 and was just his second top-10 since that win. Before 7th in Sweden, you had to go back to the Irish Open in 2016 for his last top-10.

To prove the 7th in Sweden was more than just a fluke, Donaldson finished T14 in Munich last week, at the BMW International Open, hitting a good amount of greens in the process.

Donaldson ranked 14th in Greens in Regulation last week, despite ranking 119th in Driving Accuracy, so should he straighten his driver out this week he may well go even better, given his track record at this course.

At 70/1 I am happy to take a chance that the late bloomer is getting somewhere close to the form that saw him win three times in three years from 2012-2014.

Total Points Staked this week: 6

Profit/Loss for 2017: -16