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Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 Alstom Open de France
The 2011 Alstom Open de France is our next stop on the European Tour, taking us to Paris and the top quality Le Golf National course which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup following its recent campaign. This is the 10th consecutive year we'll have played this tournament at Le Golf National so there's plenty of course history to review thankfully, plus with a good quality field attracted by the highest prize fund in continental Europe, it makes this a very interesting week for golf betting.
As an added incentive there's still an Open Championship spot to win here for non-qualified/exempt players - the top finisher inside the top 5 who hasn't already qualified will gain a spot instantly....this may be a huge motivator to some of this week's contenders.
The course is always set up strongly for this event and there's danger on many holes if you miss fairways, however this year may be tougher than most as the rough is extremely lush following a very wet start to June in Paris. That's not to say the fairways will be soft however, and the baking temperatures of recent days will complicate matters further off the tee putting a serious premium on accuracy in my view. The greens are also hard and fast bentgrass which will measure 11 or more on the stimpmeter, however they are of top quality and the best putters will feel right at home here. At 7,347 yards, this par 71 will also test the shorter hitters off the tee - all in all this is going to require a top quality performance in all departments to succeed this week.
Recent years have seen scores ranging from -7 to -15 winning this event, however typically somewhere in the -11 region is enough come Sunday evening - this is certainly no birdie-fest and personally I'm looking for players with a proven track record of performing well on tougher courses both sides of the pond. Trend-wise there's nothing of real note about the winners in recent years: Jimenez had missed 3 cuts in his last 5 attempts before his triumph here last year; Kaymer was coming into form in 2009 when he won, however he'd missed the cut the week before; Larrazabel was a shock outsider in 2008; Storm had managed a couple of top 10s in his last 10 starts in 2007; Bickerton had missed 4 of 5 cuts in 2007 and Remesy's successful defence in 2005 came off the back of a very poor season. All in all a mixed bag!
After careful deliberation my selections are as follows:
Of the favourites, Hanson is the one who stands out the most and has the best chance of lifting the trophy on Sunday in my opinion. Kaymer, Mannassero and Francesco Molinari have all been below their very best in recent weeks so carry some doubt; Bubba Watson is playing his first tournament on the European Tour and may take some time to acclimatise, whereas fellow big-hitter Alvaro Quiros may find this setup a little too punishing when he drifts off the straight and narrow. Hanson on the other hand fits this event like a glove - sometimes the obvious choices just have to be taken!
Hanson is a master of handling tough setups - he's one of those players that you place firmly in the 'grinders' category - show him a tough course and he'll invariably get himself into contention as the fair weather golfers fall by the wayside. All 4 of his European Tour wins have been achieved with scores of -6 to -10. The Ryder Cup winner can take massive confidence from a fruitful 2010 which saw him double his European Tour trophy tally and 2011 has started to pick up momentum too with top 10s in Bahrain, Dubai, Celtic Manor and an excellent 7th at Congressional.
Hanson's been in contention here for the last 2 seasons finishing 4th in 2009 and 6th last year - on both occasions he failed to beat 70 on the final day which ultimately cost him a shot at the title over the final few holes. For me he's impossible to ignore from the staking plan and will likely go very close once again. RESULT: M/C
Hansen eased himself back into competitive action last week after a break following his third runners-up finish of the season on his previous start in Wales - with 3 weeks worth of rust out of his system we should expect him to put a more competitive effort in this week and continue the fine form which has seen him bank over €1m in prize money so far this season as he's risen to 6th in the Race to Dubai. Of his 12 starts this season, he's finished inside the top 3 on 4 occasions and inside the top 20 a total of 8 times - that's impressive, consistent play from the Dane.
Hansen ranks inside the top 20 for driving accuracy on tour for the season which will set him good stead here given the setup this week, plus his 4 top 10 finishes on this course in 9 attempts underlines his liking for Le Golf National and this event. RESULT: T30
Continuing the Nordic theme, Dane Kjeldsen has been striking the ball beautifully over the last few weeks and is very close to return to winning ways in my opinion as he aims to add a 4th European Tour victory to his name. He's not been scoring as heavily as he perhaps should in recent weeks, however it will only take a small improvement with the putter to see him in contention here this week - an area of his game that is normally on of his strongest assets.
Kjeldsen's wins have all come in the -8 to -14 bracket which is perfect for this event, plus he's the type of player who sticks around on the higher quality events - he's finished well inside the top 40 in 5 of his last 6 Majors including a top 6 at Hazeltine. This is nowhere near as tough as that and the competition nowhere near as fierce - after bubbling under the surface for the last few months I think we may just see the Dane string 4 good rounds together here and get into the mix as he strives to achieve that elusive Open Championship spot. RESULT: M/C
Paris resident Havret is another who has the ability to perform when the going gets tough and his strong tee-to-green game will be well suited this week at Le Golf National. The 3-time European Tour winner proved his pedigree when finishing a shot behind Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach in 2010 plus 30th at Congressional on his last start was far from disastrous. Prior to the US Open he's finished in the top-7 3 times already this season, all on bentgrass-based events, and this form combined with 2 top 5 finishes in this event in the past suggests he's well capable of making an impact here at an attractive price. RESULT: T21
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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