7 Places Each Way! Paddy Power are going 7 places each way at the Open de France, 1/5 odds - for current odds and full details click here!
The Alstom 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 14th consecutive year we'll have played this tournament at Le Golf National, the 23rd time in total, so there's plenty of course data to review. In addition there's a reasonable quality field attracted by the highest prize fund of the continental Europe events with the likes of top 50 OWGR players Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Jamie Donaldson, Thongchai Jaidee, Victor Dubuisson, Danny Willett, Bernd Wiesberger, Francesco Molinari, Anirban Lahiri and defending champion Graeme McDowell headlining the event.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Greenbrier Classic at Old White TPC - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Le Golf National, Paris, France. Designer: Hubert Chesneau, 1990; Par: 71; Length: 7,331 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Rough: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Greens: Bent/Meadow Grass, 12'6" on the stimp; 2014 scoring average when last used for the Open de France: 73.57; Rd1: 73.23, Rd2: 73.58, Rd3: 73.70, Rd4: 74.20.
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 7,331 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) and wet (2011, 2012) and a combination of both in 2014; 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 (484 yards) and 18th (470 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. 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 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Paris is here. The heat-wave affecting south-west Europe of late is pushing north this week meaning the players will have to endure some extreme temperatures over the 4 days with the mercury getting close to 100 Fahrenheit at times.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 5 winners at Le Golf National gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Trend-wise there's nothing really of note about the winners in recent years: McDowell improved on his 6th place finish in Ireland on his previous start before defending his title 12 months 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.
Le Golf National is perennially described as a course where tee-to-green excellence prevails and I agree with that to a large degree, 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, players ranked 1st, 2nd and 6th for scrambling finished inside the final top 5 last season; 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, in dry conditions as we'll experience this week, they'll be difficult to hold for all but the very best tee-to-green practitioners.
The final part of this week's conundrum is the heat which, with temperatures due to top 38 Centigrade (100 Fahrenheit) at times, will be close to unbearable for those players who aren't used to playing in anything like those conditions. Couple that with the fact that a number of this week's cast are in action today (Tuesday) with 36 holes of Open Championship qualifying before jetting off to Paris this evening and we could find that fatigue is a real factor this week as the tournament progresses.
Bookmaker Offers. Some interesting offers this week in France to whet your appetite:
My selections are as follows:
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. I make no excuses for backing Francesco Molinari here this week as I've had him pencilled in for this event for a few weeks now and nothing I've seen since the Italian resumed a full schedule following early season wrist niggles has dampened my enthusiasm. 3 top-5 finishes in his last 6 starts include a runners-up finish at the Spanish Open, 5th at Wentworth and his best regular event PGA Tour finish of 3rd at Memorial, however it was his tee-to-green performance at the US Open that ultimately gets him the nod here. 2nd for driving accuracy (85.7%) and 1st for Greens In Regulation (81.9%) on a tough, undulating, firm & fast Chambers Bay is perfect preparation for this week's test in Paris and 9th for scrambling on the week was also impressive for a player who's been working hard on his short game in an attempt to rise higher still in the world rankings. He wasn't far from contention last week at the Travelers Championship before drifting away on Sunday, however a return to European Tour grade could see him add another trophy to his cabinet this week in my opinion.
The demands of Le Golf National are perfect for an in-form Molinari and the former Ryder Cup star has finished inside the top 26 in 8 of his 10 attempts here, twice finishing runner-up. He's clearly got the measure of the place from tee-to-green, finishing inside the top 6 for driving accuracy on 5 of his attempts here and twice in the last 5 year's he's topped the GIR stats on the week; in addition he's scrambled well here in the past too ranking 5th in 2010 and 9th in 2013 on that count - both in years where the conditions were dry and firm like this year. As an added bonus the 32 year-old was added to the Open Championship field by the R&A on Monday despite narrowly missing the OWGR cut-off and the Turin man, who will be amongst the most comfortable as the mercury rises this week, could celebrate in style with victory this week in an event that fits like a glove despite the fun and games he's had to endure in actually getting to France in the first place.
The recent form of defending champion Graeme McDowell (no top 20s since February) and Martin Kaymer (6 missed cuts in his last 9 events) is enough to put me off two players who otherwise should be contending for this title. That said, previous winners here haven't necessarily been in blistering form so anything can happen if either of the talented pair find something on the range before Thursday. Preference this week though goes to Thongchai Jaidee who has been playing very nicely of late and the Thai ace is amongst the best equipped to handle the heat and humidity of a sweltering Paris this week.
45 year-old Jaidee has won the vast majority of his professional titles on Asian soil, however victories in Wales (2012) and Sweden (2014) have proven that he's not just a one trick pony and this week's French Open in conditions far more akin to the Asian Tour could be just about perfect for him. The 6-time European Tour winner has steadily got to grips with Le Golf National over the years with performances of 36/31/26/15 and 2nd last year interspersed with a couple of missed cuts and, with his game in decent health following runners-up finishes in Thailand and at Wentworth this season plus a couple of top-11 finishes in his last four starts, he's worthy of support here. 2nd for scrambling at the European Tour's flagship event and 2nd for putting last week in Germany highlights a player who's in decent touch on and around the greens and the vastly experienced campaigner is well capable of digging in on the tougher tests of golf. He hit 78.6% of fairways and 72.2% of greens at Chambers Bay despite missing the cut and with Presidents Cup qualification still a huge priority for Jaidee I'd expect him to go well this week.
I've watched Peter Hanson's recent return from a back injury with interest and at 50/1 I'm willing to give the former OWGR top-20 player a chance this week given his positive record at Le Golf National and promising signs that he's back on track health-wise. 4th here in 2009 and 6th the year after suggests that the 37 year-old has no issues with the track here in Paris and progressive form of 13th in Sweden and 7th last week in Germany proves that he's getting all aspects of his game back into a competitive state. 3rd for all-round performance over those two events is a great indicator for a tough assignment like this week where every aspect of a player's game will be tested and 6th and 7th for scrambling over that period is excellent on a week where minimising bogeys is going to be key to success. 4 of Hanson's 6 European Tour victories have come in the 6-10 under par region and that's perfect for the Open de France and another competitive week here is more than possible at an attractive price.
Finally I'll stick with Alejandro Canizares for a second consecutive week despite flattering to deceive last week in Germany. After a strong first two days containing 9 birdies, 1 bogey and just 54 putts, the Spaniard's weekend didn't quite go to plan and he eventually drifted to a lowly 53rd, however his tee-to-green performance didn't really suffer and a return to the scene of his second career play-off defeat in 2010 may well spur him on again this week in conditions that he'll be more comfortable with than most. The son of Jose Maria Canizares had a great chance to win in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year playing alongside Bernd Wiesberger in the final Sunday group, however neither produced the goods on Sunday allowing Anirban Lahiri to sneak in and take the title, however that effort alongside a top 10 at Wentworth and a couple more top-12 finishes in the Middle East events singles out Canizares as a player who's in good enough shape overall to win another European Tour event before too long.
First Round Leader Market
Finally I'll have a small first round leader punt on the enigma that is Michael Hoey. Picking the Northern Irishman on the right week isn't an exact science - what is in this game?! - but there are a few pointers that suggest he might go well this week. The most obvious indicators are that the 36 year-old produced his best effort at Le Golf National 12 months ago to finish 7th behind Graeme McDowell and progressive form of 20th (Lyoness Open) and 7th last week in Germany shows that he's in decent nick, however there's a bit more if you dig deeper into his past. Le Golf National is often described as an inland links and a firm, fast set-up may well lend itself to a player who has a great record on more conventional links layouts including victory at the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links event in 2011. The Northern Irishman became a father for the second time just before Christmas and with life settling down once again I wouldn't be surprised to see Hoey add another title to his collection sooner rather than later now that he's found a putter and grip that he's comfortable with - a $3,000 Scotty Cameron custom-made piece no less. The heat may be the Northern Irishman's biggest challenge to contending for all four rounds, however he opened the Thailand Classic with a 64 earlier this year to lead after the first round and with a morning tee time on Thursday he could get off to a fast start once again here before the course gets too fiery.
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