The 2012 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 successful campaign last year. This is the 11th consecutive year we'll have played this tournament at Le Golf National so there's plenty of course history to review, 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 to this week's players, 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 pretty penal following the wettest June in the last 60 years in France. That extra rain has made the fairways soft and the course will play long this week as it already measures 7,347 yards for its par of 71 - all in all this is going to be a test of total driving first and foremost in my mind. To complicate matters further, the greens are firmer than normal this year, however they are of top quality and the best putters will feel right at home here if they can find the putting surfaces more often than not. Missing greens isn't an option here as scrambling is very difficult, so attacking the greens from the fairway has to be the only real strategy.
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. Trend-wise there's nothing of real note about the winners in recent years: Levet hadn't recorded a top 10 all season prior to his emotional (and for him painful!) victory last year; 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; 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!
Here's how I'm playing this week:
Much like Stockholm at the start of last month, the course conditions set up perfectly for the World number 3 here this week and his favouritism for this event is justified. Despite missing a whole host of chances from inside 7 feet over that week, Westwood still managed to win by 5 shots - that's not to say his putting was poor overall though as he ranked 11th for putts per GIR and 3rd for total putts on the Swedish bentgrass greens. Those kind of statistics, coupled with his strength from tee-to-green, make Lee a very difficult player to beat when he's playing well, and so it may prove again this week.
The 39 year-old recorded his 4th Major top 10 in 5 starts at the Olympic Club on his last competitive start and arrives here fresh and in excellent form and fitness in the run-up to the Open Championship in a fortnight's time. For me, Lee won't really want to win at Castle Stuart next week given the associated pressures that come with winning an event, however this week is a different matter and finishes of 5th in 2008 and 2nd (playoff defeat to Martin Kaymer) in 2009 shows that the course is to his liking and the recent damp conditions simply swing the advantage further in his favour. Westwood was trading at 7/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T40
At 14/1, Kaymer is a must-back this week as he is the most likely contender should Westwood fail to deliver in my opinion. Form in this event isn't always critical as there have been first-time winners - Pablo Larrazabal in 2008 the latest - as well as those who had never really shown much at Le Golf National, however Kaymer's record here of 7/MC/1/6/4 is eye-catching and simply can't be ignored. That MC was the week after his (at the time) biggest triumph, winning the BMW International Open in front of his home crowd, and can be safely dismissed - every other time he's been firmly in contention.
Kaymer performs best on longer, exposed courses - his 2 wins in Abu Dhabi are testament to that alone - and this course always sets up nicely for the 27 year-old World number 14. He missed the cut in Germany after a gruelling 4 days at The Olympic Club - disappointing for him, although far from unexpected, however his 2009 victory here also followed a missed cut at the BMW International Open and he'll be far fresher for this event and without the weight of expectation - and the local media frenzy - he experienced back in his homeland a fortnight ago. His focus on improving his short game is clearly paying off as he now ranks 14th on Tour for scrambling and that will set him apart from many of his competitors this week. Kaymer was trading at 15/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T70
The last 2 weeks on the European Tour have seen a couple of talented 'nearly men' finally make their breakthrough; if that trend is to continue then for me it's either George Coetzee or Chris Wood who are the most likely victors. Wood is battling away at Open Championship qualifying at the time of writing and that's far from perfect preparation less than 48 hours before the start here in France, so I'm opting for the talented young South African instead.
Coetzee packs the kind of firepower required to have a successful week around a soggy Le Golf National course and his driving accuracy is improving season-on-season now he's learning to control his power a little more - in fact the wet fairways are likely to help him keep the ball in play if anything. For those missing greens, a strong short-game is required and Coetzee has an excellent touch and always putts well on bentgrass surfaces. 37th here last year on debut included an opening round 66, more of the same here this week and the bookies could be cursing by paying too much attention to 2 missed cuts (one of which was the US Open), instead of his 4 top-7 finishes in 2012 and a contending performance in Wales which was ruined by just one bad hole on his back 9 on Sunday. Coetzee was trading at 94/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T17
The burly Englishman is perhaps the most 'obvious' longer-priced player out there, however often it's the obvious that's staring you in the face at the end of a tournament and I'm going to stick to my guns here in an event that's seen a fair amount of English success over the years. Last week's runners-up finish in Ireland signalled a return to form for the 37 year-old who'd had a quiet couple of months after some promising results earlier in the season and a 100% record in terms of cuts made up to the start of May. Wall struck the ball beautifully at Portrush for the most part and if he continues that form here he'll be in the mix come Sunday.
Other than last week, there's more to go on with Wall - he's certainly not the shortest off the tee averaging a shade over 290 for the season to date; coupled with his accuracy (27th) he'd rank very well in the total driving category should the European Tour ever publish one. 16th in scrambling for the season is also eye-catching form for this tough course and 3rd for putting last week suggests he's ready for another big week. 10th here last year was Anthony's best return from Le Golf National and he'll be looking forward to this week with his game in good shape as he seeks out his 2nd European Tour career victory. Wall was trading at 89/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: MC
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!