With a relatively low grade event taking place in the US, we’ll be focussing on the European Tour this week and one of the key events in the run-up to the 2018 Ryder Cup, the Open de France at the team event’s host venue – Le Golf National in Paris.
The opportunity to scout the course and press one’s claims for a spot in the lineup for the September showpiece has drawn a stellar field, with a number of Team Europe’s potential stars teeing it up in the form of Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren amongst others.
A certain Justin Thomas has also taken the chance to get some competitive rounds under his belt at a course where he’s sure to play a feature role in a few months so clearly the event has captured the attention of the game’s best and brightest.
Based on the previous history of Captains’ Picks being given to players who have demonstrated good form on the host course in the run-up to the Ryder Cup, there really is added incentive for Europeans to perform this week.
The likes of Sergio, Matt Fitzpatrick, Thorbjorn Olesen and Alex Levy, who all have Ryder Cup ambitions but currently find themselves on the outside looking in, could go a long way to securing one of Thomas Bjorn’s selections with a strong showing this week.
Le Golf National has played host to this event since 1991, with some modifications made in 2016 to ready the course for its prime-time spot in the world’s sporting calendar later this year. It sets up with the feel of an inland links type test, with undulating fairways, exposed bentgrass greens and large, sprawling bunkers protecting fairway landing spots and wayward approaches.
The final stretch also sees some water features brought in to play so there are potential trading opportunities down the back nine as players battle their nerves when in contention.
It’s a relatively short par 71, at just under 7250, and there are three reachable par 5s so there is a risk/reward option for the longer hitters in the field.
The keys to going well at Le Golf National historically have been hitting plenty of greens and scrambling efficient if you do miss the greens.
Of the winners this decade, five have ranked inside the top 5 for GIR during the week of their victory and all bar Graeme McDowell in 2014 have ranked inside the top 10 for scrambling. In form players who have shown previous course form are also to be favoured as all of the winners this decade had had at least a top 15 finish at the course previously, though Tommy Fleetwood bucked that trend last year as he triumphed having recorded four previous missed cuts in four tries here.
As well as the incentive of looking up a Ryder Cup spot, the event is part of the newly created Rolex Series – an initiative designed by commissioner Keith Pelley to give kudos to certain events on the schedule, offering increased purses and additional European Tour points. Pelley’s aspirations have largely been borne out as the winners of these events thus far have been a veritable who’s who of the game’s best Europeans – McIlroy, Rahm, Molinari, Cabrera-Bello, Noren, Hatton.
With that roll call, I think it makes sense to focus largely on the front end of the market when selecting this week’s picks and focussing on those with winning pedigree on the games biggest stages.
This week’s outright fancies
With the above said, my first selection this week is Martin Kaymer (35.0). The two-time major winner and four-time Ryder Cupper has shown some decent form in recent weeks on the European Tour, following up his T8 at the Italian Open with a runner-up finish last week in his homeland at the BMW International Open. Kaymer’s long game was in decent order as he ranked 12th for GIR on the week but was held back from contending by a fairly moderate putting display.
The German is currently way down the European Tour points list so will likely be relying on a captain’s pick so a performance at a venue where he’s had a win and five other top 10 finishes is a must if he wishes to lock up a fifth appearance at the great team event.
I’m backing him to make that happen and expect a very strong showing this week.
My next pick is a Spaniard looking to make his second consecutive Ryder Cup appearance, Rafa Cabrera Bello. The 34-year-old is improving year on year and has benefitted from playing a more regular US schedule as he’s risen to the challenge of playing against the world’s best week after week.
Consecutive top fives at this event demonstrate an affinity for the course and his current form – a creditable T36 at Shinnecock Hills preceded by a solo 4th at the Italian Open and a T8 at Wentworth (both Rolex Series events) – shows he is in excellent nick coming into the week.
Currently ranked 11th in GIR and 8th in SG: approach on the PGA Tour, the 2017 Scottish Open winner has the perfect profile for this tournament and could secure his spot on the European Team this week. Expect a big showing.
My final pick is a man I expect to be very popular this week, English Ryder Cup stalwart Ian Poulter. Poulter has had a career renaissance since nearly losing his card last season, rising to 28th in the world having been ranked in the low 190s at one point. His form this season has been outstanding with a win at the Houston Open the highlight amongst a run of results featuring top 10s at the Italian Open and at Harbour Town, with top 25 finishes at the US Open and at The Players Championship at Sawgrass.
His Open de France resume features four top 10 finishes previously amongst a perfect 12 from 12 made cut record and it’s hard to argue that there is a player in the world who plays better when motivated than the Woburn man. Given the mix of course form, current form and burning desire to be a playing participant in September, I expect Poults to be right there on Sunday.
- 2 points Martin Kaymer @ 35.0 (lay 4 points @ 6.00)
- 2 points Rafael Cabera Bello @ 25.0 (lay 4 points @ 6.00)
- 2 points Ian Poulter @ 25.00 (lay 4 points @ 6.00)