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The newly named HNA Open de France is our next stop on the European Tour, taking us to the outskirts of Paris and the top quality Albatross course at Le Golf National which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup. This is the 16th consecutive year we'll have played this tournament at Le Golf National, the 26th time in total, so there's plenty of course data to review. In addition there's a decent quality field as this event forms the second leg of the 'Rolex Series' and with it comes a healthy $7m prize fund which has attracted the likes of top 25 OWGR players Alex Noren, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton and Thomas Pieters plus a decent selection of top European players beneath them - a healthy improvement over last year's renewal which clashed with the WGC Bridgestone Invitational due to schedule changes made for the Olympics.
Over on the PGA Tour Steve Bamford previews the Quick Loans National - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Le Golf National, Paris, France. Designer: Hubert Chesneau, 1990; Par: 71; Length: 7,249 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Rough: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Greens: Bent/Meadow Grass, 12'6" on the stimp.
Course Overview. Le Golf National is always set up strongly for this event and danger lurks on many holes if you miss fairways with water at the start and end of each round. The 7,249 yard, par 71 stadium course was designed to test the very best golfers with a premium on accurate driving and, in particular, approaches to the difficult, undulating greens. Missing greens isn't a great option here as scrambling is tough, so attacking from the fairway has to be the only real strategy and finding the right parts of greens with any consistency is only really possible from the short stuff. The last few renewals have seen a mix of dry conditions (2010, 2013, 2015) and wet (2011, 2012) and a combination of both (2014, 2016); wet or dry the rough here is amongst the very toughest on the European Tour plus some of the holes are pretty brutal in terms of length - the 17th (480 yards) and 18th (471 yards) play amongst the most difficult on the week.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Open de France that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Thongchai Jaidee, 66/1; 2015: Bernd Wiesberger, 33/1; 2014: Graeme McDowell, 12/1; 2013: Graeme McDowell, 25/1; 2012: Marcel Siem, 70/1; 2011: Thomas Levet, 140/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 80/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Paris is here. After a sweltering spell in France of late, the weather has cooled down significantly and players will be presented with showery and breezy conditions with temperatures struggling to top 70 Fahrenheit. Rain is also forecast pre-event which could soften the course a little and make the rough particularly tough.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners at Le Golf National gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Le Golf National is perennially described as a course where tee-to-green excellence prevails and I agree with that to an extent, however minimising bogeys with an excellent short game shouldn't be underestimated here either. For a player to contend here they're going to have to find the vast majority of greens in regulation or minimise bogeys with an excellent week around the greens; the winner is ultimately likely to excel in both areas over the four days.
On the subject of scrambling, Thonchai Jaidee ranked 2nd in the field for getting the ball up and down 12 months ago; players ranked 1st to 5th for scrambling finished inside the top 6 overall in 2015; 1st, 2nd and 6th for scrambling finished inside the final top 5 in 2014; likewise in 2013 players ranked 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th for scrambling finished inside the top 6; 2012 had players ranked 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th for scrambling finish inside the top 4 and 2011 had similar stats with 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th ranked players for scrambling finishing inside the top 7. This all makes sense when you consider that the greens here are designed to be played firm and fast so they'll be difficult to hold for all but the very best tee-to-green practitioners in anything but soft conditions.
Incoming Form: Form-wise there's nothing really of note about the winners in recent years: Jaidee hadn't recorded a single top-10 finish in 2016 prior to winning; Wiesberger had finished 27th in Germany the week before and 2nd in Ireland, however in between those results were 4 missed cuts; McDowell improved on his 6th place finish in Ireland on his previous start before defending his title 3 years ago and was in the middle of his win-or-bust run when he arrived here the year before with form of MC/1/MC/1/MC/MC/MC; Marcel Siem was in decent nick with 4 top-10s to his name in 2012 prior to victory, whereas Tomas Levet hadn't recorded a top 10 all season prior to his emotional (and for him painful) victory the year before. Jimenez had missed 3 cuts in his last 5 attempts before his triumph here in 2010; Kaymer was coming into form in 2009 when he won, however he'd missed the cut the week before; Larrazabal was a shock outsider who came through qualifying 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 2006 and Remesy's successful defence in 2005 came off the back of a very poor season. All in all a very mixed bag.
Course Form (back to 2010):It's also interesting to note that 11 of the past 12 winners here had previously recorded a top-25 or better on this course prior to their success, so looking for players with a strong track record here isn't a bad play in my opinion. Since 2010, course form of the winners here is as follows:
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
At the top of the market, Jon Rahm is just about the bookies' favourite from Francesco Molinari and both will have their supporters this week and with good reason. Rahm is a future world number 1 player in my view and his first competitive look at Le Golf National will serve as useful homework for next year's Ryder Cup which he'll surely be part of. The Spaniard is a huge talent that's for sure, however for me he's not quite got the temperament for a proper grind just yet and that puts me off him here despite his clear chance at this level. Francesco Molinari has finished runner-up here on three separate occasions including last year, however that just about says it all for a player who contends so often but converts little and at the price on offer I'll look elsewhere. Shane Lowry was also tempting this week I must say, however preference goes to Alex Noren who's a few points shorter in the betting but is in such prolific winning form that he shouldn't be ignored despite missing the cut at Erin Hills on his last start.
It's 9 career European Tour wins now in total for the OWGR No.8 and 5 of those have come inside the last 12 months, the most recent of which was at the inaugural Rolex Series event at Wentworth last month. With a strike rate that totals over 25% since that Scottish Open win last year, backing him at 20/1 at a level at which he's immensely comfortable is an absolute no-brainer for me and despite being 3rd favourite for this event I still see value in this price. The way he won the BMW PGA Championship with a blistering final day round of 62 was incredibly impressive and barring some disaster he'll surely be teeing it up again here at Le Golf National for next year's Ryder Cup.
One aspect I pulled out of the stats in the preamble was the ability to scramble pars around this track in order to remain in contention and prior to the US Open his short game had been in excellent form: 3rd for scrambling at TPC Sawgrass, 4th on the same count at Wentworth and 2nd in Sweden all point to a player whose short game is on point right now and that will set him in great stead here. His long game's not too shabby either which will also be important of course - he topped GIR at The Players and has been solid from off the tee for a fair while now - and coupled with the confidence flowing through his game that makes him the player to beat in my view. 8th last year was his best effort around these parts and with his game on a whole new level since that point in time, I can see him adding yet another trophy to the cabinet here this week.
Missing the cut at Erin Hills didn't stop Andres Romero from winning last week in Germany and another player who took an early bath in Wisconsin was Chris Wood and he could easily bounce back here this week. The lanky Bristolian is at his best when either the course or conditions are tough and Le Golf National with a bit of rain and a bit of breeze is right up his alley in my view. 11th here last year was his best result on this track from 6 attempts and he closed with a personal best around these parts of 68 twelve months ago to earn himself a place in my notebook ahead of this week. The 29 year-old, who became a father for the first time in February, has finished inside the top-4 on two of his last four starts globally - the other two were the BMW PGA Championship where he was defending and the US Open, so I'm happy to excuse both - and more of the same is quite possible here this week. Having got an albeit limited Ryder Cup taste last year, the 3-time European Tour winner is another who'll be looking at this week's venue with a sense of anticipation ahead of next year's event, even though qualification doesn't start for another couple of months. Wood's long game has been typically robust of late without being spectacular, however his short game and putting in particular have been impressive and if he can produce a decent week from tee-to-green here in Paris then he'll contend I'm sure.
A couple of lively mid-priced contenders to back up my headline picks. Firstly I'm sticking with Joost Luiten despite the fact that he ultimately disappointed last week after a strong 6-under start had put him in contention. I talked last week about the Dutchman's ball-striking needing to improve in order to match his recent hot putting that we saw at the Lyoness Open and, to a large degree, that happened: 6th for Driving Accuracy and 16th for GIR was a big step forward and the 31 year-old talked on his blog afterwards about how that kind of improvement in his long game breeds confidence in his overall performance. A few too many frustrating mistakes was Luiten's downfall as his putting was still on point (1.66 putts per GIR - 6th in the field) and his All-Round ranking beat everyone else in attendance. His 6 attempts at this Open de France trophy have shown steady improvement reading 42/MC/47/49/18/9 and the 5-time European Tour winner talked last year about how he felt he could attack this course when his driving allowed him to approach pins from the fairway - on the basis of last week's effort then that should be happening more often than not which makes him an interesting runner this week at a fair price.
If hitting fairways proves to be an important aspect this week then Andy Sullivan's recent performances with the driver are more than noteworthy. A soggy forecast to start this week's event will make the rough particularly challenging for those who find it off the tee and there may well be a number of big name casualties who fail to make the weekend if they can't handle the conditions and keep the ball in play. 4th for Driving Accuracy at the Nordea Masters and 2nd last week in Germany on the same count are impressive numbers and slowly but surely the Englishman's GIR figures are rising with progressive figures of 59.7%, 63.9% and 69.4% achieved over his last 3 starts stretching back to Wentworth. The 30 year-old has shown the ability to contend and win on tracks of varying difficulty with -11, -17 and -23 the winning scores from his 3 European Tour successes and he's clearly found Le Golf National to his liking with finishes of 6th and 5th here over the past 2 seasons. Bentgrass greens are the Nuneaton man's strongest suit by a country mile and he topped the putting averages here 12 months ago. If he keeps the ball in play as he has done over his past 2 starts, and putts anywhere near as well as last year, then an each-way place or better is there for the taking.
Of the longer prices on offer this week, the one that really caught my eye was Jeunghun Wang. An opening show of 125/1 disappeared in a matter of minutes on Monday, however he's still worth taking on at what is a far more realistic price for a player who's won three times on the European Tour in a little over 12 months.
There's always the chance when backing Wang that he'll end up with a missed cut - indeed 4 of his last 6 starts have resulted in a weekend off - however the payoff for getting him right is still disproportionately large and 8th on his penultimate start in Sweden suggests that there's nothing wrong with his game whatsoever. 22nd here 12 months ago on debut doesn't tell the whole story as rounds of 71, 66 and 70 catapulted the 21 year-old into the final Sunday group alongside eventual winner Thongchai Jaidee. Le Golf National isn't a track that's generally kind to debutants and in the end a final round 78 meant that the South Korean star drifted well down the leaderboard, however the experience gained will undoubtedly set him in good stead whenever he returns to this part of Paris in the future.
Wang's most recent win came in Qatar which isn't dissimilar to an inland links in the way that it plays and a blustery forecast won't worry him here. His wins in Morocco and Mauritius last year came at -5 and -6 respectively which puts him firmly in the category of player who can grind out a contending and potentially winning score when a course presents a stiff challenge and that's no bad attribute to have when arriving here. Statistically you'll tend to struggle to find the numbers to back up the undoubted quality of Jeunghun Wang, however at the price I'm quite happy to take a chance here that this will be one of his positive weeks. 90/1 is available at the time of writing for 5 places, however I'll take the 7 places, 1/5 odds with Wang at a slightly shorter price.
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