Last year’s Open de France at Le Golf National – one of the European Tour’s great courses – was loaded with talent and expectation.
With the Ryder Cup being held there just 90 days later, plenty of Thomas Bjorn’s winning team chose to test their mettle at the Paris venue while only one American – Justin Thomas – took the opportunity.
In a neat morality tale, Thomas would emerge as the USA’s top points scorer, showing that the extra prep helped make a difference.
The summer tournament always attracted an excellent field anyway but, this year, a move in the schedule to October has hit it hard.
Even last week’s Rolex Series event in Italy didn’t attract the biggest names so, with a much lower purse here, almost all of the leading lights haven’t a found a place for the Open de France on their calendars.
Without doubt, that’s a big shame.
Still, the show must go on and, despite modest prize money, we’ll still get to witness some great golf on an outstanding course.
After this week’s action in Paris, there are just five more tournaments to go on the European Tour schedule before the closing DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Only 50 make it to through this year (down from 60) so the scrap for places will be even fiercer.
The Course – Le Golf National
It’ll seem particularly familiar with the Ryder Cup still fresh in the memory. Situated 20 miles south-west of Paris, the stadium course has undulating, and often hard-to-hit, fairways, fast greens, links-style bunkers and water lurking on 15, 16 and 18. The greens are a mix of meadow and bent grass and the course, a par 71, measures in at 7,245 yards. The closing two par fours at 17 and 18 are 480 and 471 yards respectively.
Winners at Le Golf National and their stats for the week
2018 -7 Alex Noren (DD 35, DA 2, GIR 5, Scr 8; PA 37)
2017 -12 Tommy Fleetwood (DD 25, DA 3, GIR 1, Scr 9; PA 53)
2016 -11 Thongchai Jaidee (DD 42, DA 22, GIR 18, Scr 2; PA 3)
2015 -13 Bernd Wiesberger (DD 4, DA 45, GIR 2, Scr 3; PA 33)
2014 -5 Graeme McDowell (DD 59, DA 17, GIR 22, Scr 15; PA 3)
2013 -9 Graeme McDowell (DD 41, DA 15, GIR 1, Scr 2; PA 31)
2012 -8 Marcel Siem (DD 5, DA 2, GIR 3, Scr 4; PA 31)
2011 -7 Thomas Levet (DD 29, DA 35, GIR 3, Scr 8; PA 20)
2010 -11 Miguel Angel Jimenez (DD 48, DA 16, GIR 12, Scr 38; PA 4)
2009 -13 Martin Kaymer (DD 21, DA 43, GIR 9, Scr 23; PA 3)
Notes: Six of the last eight winners have ranked in the top five for GIR while scrambling well is a key skill too. Driving Accuracy is usually a better asset than bombing it off the tee.
Pack the umbrella. The forecast shows wet conditions in the build-up and rain on Thursday, Saturday and possibly Sunday. Temperatures are in the mid-to-low 60s.
Martin Kaymer: “It’s a ball striking course and it requires everything from your game. I’m not surprised that it was such a great venue for The Ryder Cup in 2018."
Jon Rahm: “It's not go to the tee, hit driver as hard as you can. It actually makes you think. You need to hit good golf shots and you pretty much need to hit every golf shot there is. It's fair, you can think your way around it and if you're smart enough, you can actually get a score but to win you need to play extremely good.”
Justin Thomas: “It's a tremendous golf course. It's a great test of golf. It's all right in front of you. It's not like there's any hidden tricks or anything like that. It's just a difficult golf course that you just really have to kind of plot your way around and execute the golf shots."
The Leading Contenders
Having cracked the top ten in the previous two editions, Noren clearly had a liking for Le Golf National although for the first two days (73-72) last year he didn’t look like the winner. That changed on the weekend with a stunning 65-67 finish. While not setting the world on fire, he returns in decent enough shape after T28 at Wentworth, T15 at the Alfred Dunhill Links and T34 in Italy. Decent GIR figures for the last few months.
The local man missed his first five cuts at Le Golf National and again went out at halfway in 2016. But MLV took sixth in 2015, was third in 2017 and added T16 last year so it’s a course he’s started to thrive on. There’s been lots of good stuff this season too with a pair of second places and five top tens in his last ten starts as well as T15 at the Alfred Dunhill Links on his latest outing. Ranked second for GIR at Wentworth.
On and on he goes. After connecting a trio of top tens in August/September, the Austrian added tied fourth in last week’s Italian Open to rise to 31st on the Race to Dubai. In all, Schwab has eight top tens from 25 starts. As for course form, he’s played Le Golf National just once, finishing a creditable T37 last year, and the way he’s hitting his irons right now suggests he can have another strong week.
If it’s high-level consistency you want, the South African offers it in spades. In his last ten starts, Van Rooyen has eight top tens, the highlight a victory in August’s Scandinavian Invitation. The run continued with T10 at the Italian Open on Sunday where he was 8th for GIR. Gamers will likely think all that current form trumps his 77-75 MC on last year’s Le Golf National debut.
Luiten is 6-for-7 at Le Golf National with a top ten and a top 20 in two of his latest three visits. That said, he’s not managed to shoot lower than 69 here since his 2010 debut. He’s currently offering bags of consistency with seven cuts out of seven since the middle of the summer although only one of those – T10 at his home KLM Open – was in the top 20. On the plus side, his GIR numbers have been excellent for quite a while.
Since returning to winning ways with victory at August’s Czech Masters, Pieters has made all five cuts and the first three were 12-20-10. He’s just tailed off a little with T37 at Wentworth and T68 at the Italian Open, failing to break 70 in his last ten rounds. His course form is pretty decent, a 4-for-5 slate that includes T16 in 2016 and T13 in 2017.
After five missed cuts from July’s Irish Open to September’s European Open, the Englishman has now banked three top 25s, the middle of those a top five at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He ranked 7th, 11th and 6th for GIR at those three events while he’s been a solid performer in two starts at Le Golf National with T30 on debut and T21 last year.
After making the top five in a Challenge Tour event in his previous start in France, Kinhult pitched up at Le Golf National last year and led the way after 36 and 54 holes before a slipping to fifth after a closing 76. A winner at the British Masters this year, he’s made his last seven cuts and three of the last five, including T18 in Italy, were top 20s. The Swede deserves respect this week.
The English youngster spiralled to an opening 78 on his first look at Le Golf National last year and a 71 in round two couldn’t repair the damage. He’s made his last eight cuts on the European Tour, the last three 34-34-31 so he’s not quite had his best game since back-to-back top tens in August.
The German is one of Le Golf National’s strongest course horses, winning this title in 2009 and racking up another five top sevens and a further pair of top 15s. So it came as a major surprise when he shot 77-76 last year to crash out. Maybe that reflects a wider malaise and four missed cuts in his last five starts indicates he’s struggling again after a summer revival which brought thee top tens in seven events.
A two-time winner earlier this season, the American is stepping it up again. After T21 at the KLM Open and T14 at Wentworth, he recovered from MC in Vegas after popping over to the States to take solo third at the Italian Open. He was T5 for GIR but wild off the tee and the latter comment could give him problems at this course. Debut.
The last time he had a ‘home’ game, Perez won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland two weeks ago (he’s been living there for a year with his girlfriend). T57 in Italy last week was an understandable comedown. This, of course, is a more genuine home game and he failed it last year when firing 77-80. More encouragement can be found his Challenge Tour form in France (4th and 11th last year).