Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Open de France Tips 2019

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With the European Tour taking something of a breather for this week and next before the WGC HSBC Champions and 3 consecutive Rolex Series events see us home for the season, we’re heading to last year’s Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National for a very low-key French Open before we go to Vilamoura in a week’s time for a similarly low-grade affair.

Relegation to regular event status and a massive reduction in the prize fund from $7m to €1.6m has seen the quality of field take a huge drop this year with no representation from the OWGR top-50 whatsoever, undoubtedly fuelled further by the prize money on offer at the CJ Cup which is being played in South Korea this week also.

Defending champion Alex Noren heads the field at a best-priced 12/1 at the time of writing, from Mike Lorenzo-Vera (14/1) and Erik Van Rooyen (16/1). Matthias Schwab, Thomas Pieters and Joost Luiten all rate as 20/1 shots or shorter in this 120-man field, which has been reduced due to the lower levels of daylight in the northern hemisphere at this late stage of the year.

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Le Golf National, Paris, France. Designer: Hubert Chesneau, 1990; Par: 71; Length: 7,245 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 7,245 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, 2018) and wet (2011, 2012) and a combination of both (2014, 2016, 2017); 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 | Combined Form Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2018: Alex Noren, 16/1; 2017: Tommy Fleetwood, 22/1; 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Paris is here. Whereas last year’s renewal was played in near perfect conditions with the mercury topping 80 Fahrenheit each day, this year will see more autumnal conditions.

Rain is possible for each of the first 3 days with temperatures struggling to reach 60 Fahrenheit in the afternoons and a moderate breeze of 10-15mph throughout. Sunday promises to be a dry, crisp day with lighter winds for those battling for the title coming down the stretch.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners at Le Golf National gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2018, Alex Noren (-7). 75% fairways (2nd), 75% greens in regulation (5th), 55.6% scrambling (8th), 1.76 putts per GIR (37th)
  • 2017, Tommy Fleetwood (-12). 76.8% fairways (3rd), 84.7% greens in regulation (1st), 63.6% scrambling (9th), 1.84 putts per GIR (53rd)
  • 2016, Thongchai Jaidee (-11). 62.5% fairways (22nd), 69.% greens in regulation (18th), 68.2% scrambling (2nd), 1.68 putts per GIR (3rd)
  • 2015, Bernd Wiesberger (-13). 55.4% fairways (45th), 81.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 76.9% scrambling (3rd), 1.80 putts per GIR (33rd)
  • 2014, Graeme McDowell (-5). 62.5% fairways (17th), 68.1% greens in regulation (22nd), 56.5% scrambling (15th), 1.69 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2013, Graeme McDowell (-9). 71.4% fairways (15th), 79.2% greens in regulation (1st), 73.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.76 putts per GIR (29th).
  • 2012, Marcel Siem (-8). 73.2% fairways (2nd), 73.6% greens in regulation (3rd), 63.2% scrambling (4th), 1.78 putts per GIR (32nd).
  • 2011, Thomas Levet (-7). 67.9% fairways (38th), 73.6% greens in regulation (3rd), 68.4% scrambling (8th), 1.77 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez (-11). 76.8% fairways (16th), 77.8% greens in regulation (11th), 56.3% scrambling (38th), 1.64 putts per GIR (3rd).

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, Alex Noren sat 8th on that count after 72 holes last year; Tommy Fleetwood ranked 9th the year before and runner-up Peter Uihlein led the field with an excellent 82.6%. Thonchai Jaidee ranked 2nd in the field for getting the ball up and down in 2016; 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 a really mixed bag when looking at the winners in recent years: Alex Noren was clearly in good nick last year having recorder 4 consecutive top-25 finishes, as was Tommy Fleetwood who’d finished 4th at the US Open and 6th at the BMW International Open immediately prior to his success here 2 years ago; 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.

  • 2018, Alex Noren: 36/3/MC/MC/17/3/23/25
  • 2017, Tommy Fleetwood: 39/MC/2/41/MC/MC/4/6
  • 2016, Thongchai Jaidee: WD/14/28/33/57/MC/MC/31/52/38
  • 2015, Bernd Wiesberger: MC/22/33/34/MC/MC/2/MC/MC/27
  • 2014, Graeme McDowell: 5/46/9/10/MC/23/62/24/28/6
  • 2013, Graeme McDowell: 9/3/45/MC/1/MC/1/MC/MC/MC
  • 2012, Marcel Siem: 2/17/52/29/MC/12/7/33/6/57
  • 2011, Thomas Levet: 42/MC/MC/MC/11/17/16/64/MC/MC
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez: 52/12/17/17/MC/MC/8/MC/49

Course Form (back to 2010): It’s also interesting to note that 12 of the past 14 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 has generally proven to be a positive strategy.

Tommy Fleetwood’s win in 2017 blew that logic apart though as he’d previously failed to make the weekend on four attempts here before winning his second title of the season, however generally that trend has held firm. Since 2010, course form of the winners here is as follows:

  • 2018, Alex Noren: MC/MC/MC/78/37/15/MC/8/10
  • 2017, Tommy Fleetwood: MC/MC/MC/MC
  • 2016, Thongchai Jaidee:  MC/MC/36/31/MC/26/15/MC/2/10
  • 2015, Bernd Wiesberger: 62/47/13/18
  • 2014, Graeme McDowell: 18/4/MC/MC/13/MC/17/1
  • 2013, Graeme McDowell: 18/4/MC/MC/13/MC/17
  • 2012, Marcel Siem: DQ/23/8/21/72/66/WD/18/52
  • 2011, Thomas Levet: MC/MC/MC/50/15/34/68/MC/58/30/69/MC
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez: MC/23/23/8/55/MC/MC/66/25

The change in scheduling and relegation from Rolex Series status for this event has undoubtedly changed the dynamic in terms of field strength, however the demands of Le Golf National remain the same and this course isn’t for the faint of heart.

Cooler, damper conditions will make the course play on the long side, however with a little breeze in the forecast this will demand strong ball-striking as well as a competent short game for players who have aspirations of taking the title on Sunday. Le Golf National is often described as having inland links characteristics and players with a liking for that style of golf often excel here.

My selections are as follows:

Marcus Kinhult 2pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

A move in scheduling to the autumn and the loss of its Rolex Series status has seen the French Open field take a battering this year. With a prize find of a little over a fifth of what we saw last week in Italy, the big guns have stayed away as they look to sharpen their tools ahead of the big money events that start in China in a fortnight’s time, that will take us through to the conclusion of the European Tour season.

Defending champion Alex Noren is the favourite this week at around 12/1, however he’s going to need to step up his game from recent weeks if he’s going to successfully retain a title for the first time in his career here and he looked decidedly dodgy from off the tee at times last week in Italy. As talented as he is, Mike Lorenzo Vera holds little appeal at a similar price as he continues to seek his maiden European Tour title; likewise Matthias Schwab will clearly break through eventually, however 18/1 isn’t exactly setting my pulse racing.

Of the remaining market leaders, Joost Luiten holds the most appeal, however he proved to be a let-down last week when carrying my money, treading water for 3 days after having opened up with a bogey-free 66 and looking like a sure-fire contender. For me though, the only player I’ve backed from the top segment of the market is Marcus Kinhult who really should have won this 12 months ago.

Leading by 2 heading into both the weekend and then the final round, the Swede limped home in 76 strokes to eventually finish 5th as compatriot Alex Noren gleefully took the title. That effort though, combined with a 3rd place finish at the Qatar Masters earlier in 2018, hinted that these exposed tracks with linksy features appeal to his style of play and he eventually got over the line at Hillside on a pure links track at this year’s British Masters as the potential many had seen in him was finally realised.

It’s not been exactly plain sailing since his victory with no top-10 finishes recorded from the 11 starts in-between times, however there have been enough hints of late in his game to suggest that he’s rounding into some form once again and could well be joining the list of 2019 multiple winners before too long. 64 to close his Scandinavian Invitation effort in Gothenburg caught the eye, as did a closing pair of 65s at Crans the week after on his way to 12th position overall. 66 to open at the Dunhill Links was positive before falling away, and 67 on Friday last week was amongst the best rounds of the day as he eventually finished 18th on that parkland layout as his ironplay started to look a lot sharper.

With a further year’s worth of experience and a breakthrough win under his belt since his implosion here last time out, if Kinhult can find himself in position this year then I suspect he’ll make a far better fist of it this time around. Result: T11

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Ryan Fox 1pt EW 60/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

At mid-prices, it was a toss up between Richie Ramsay who should enjoy the conditions better than many others and has shown some good glimpses of form of late, Matt Southgate who likes anything remotely linksy and who I backed last year when he finished 5th, and Ryan Fox who I’ve ultimately settled on.

Ramsay’s record here at Le Golf National is poor save for finishing 5th back in 2011 where he let a good position go with a closing round of 76; Southgate, on the other hand, has more immediate tangible form here in Paris to encourage backers, however he may still be deflated after letting a golden opportunity to break his European Tour maiden slip through his fingers at the Dunhill Links a couple of weeks ago.

Despite 2019 being a breakthrough season for Fox, he’ll be disappointed with how the year’s progressed following his win at the World Super 6 back in February. That success had followed a couple of weeks after finishing 6th in Saudi Arabia on the coastal track there, however it’s taken up until the Open Championship in July for us to see any real tangible form from the Kiwi. An opening 68 at Royal Portrush put the 32 year-old in 3rd position after 18 holes and a closing 69 secured him his best Major championship finish on his favoured links terrain. 54th at the Dunhill Links masks the fact that he was 5th heading into Saturday and 18th last week on a far less amenable course tells me that his game’s in good shape heading into this week on a layout that plays far more to his strengths.

6th here on debut in 2017 offers encouragement and although 44th last year is less convincing, he did however hit 75% of Greens in Regulation both times which saw him sit inside the top-6 on that count on both occasions and suggests that the course suits his eye with iron in hand. His short game was the main reason that he struggled last year; however after a top-10 effort on that score last week in Italy he should be able to approach this week’s task with confidence as he looks to cement his place in the Race to Dubai’s top-60 from his current position of 55th. Result: T18

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Jeunghun Wang 1pt EW 80/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

A weak field has meant that a number of European Tour maidens and journeymen have been priced on the relatively short side and there are plenty who are being quoted at lower prices than Jeunghun Wang despite having a CV that’s nowhere near as impressive.

3 times a European Tour winner since 2016, having progressed from the Asian Tour courtesy of back-to-back wins in Morocco and Mauritius, puts him in the upper echelons of career achievements compared to much of the field this week and his most recent win, the 2017 Qatar Masters, holds some relevance given the inland linksy style of play that’s often associated with both the track there at Doha as well as here at Le Golf National.

The South Korean looked like a superstar in the making having broken into the OWGR top-50 following that victory in Qatar, however in truth the last couple of years have been a real struggle. Just 5 top-10 finishes have followed in his next 80 starts globally and this year he’s missed more than half of his cuts as he drifted outside of the world’s top 750, however there are definite signs of a recovery of late to encourage an investment this week.

2 of those top-10 finishes have come in his last 3 starts, finishing 5th at the Dunhill Links last month before ending up in 10th spot last week in far stronger company in Italy. Saturday’s round of 64 tied the best 18 holes produced by any player on the week and in general he looked sharp both with his approach play and with his short game, both of which bodes well for this week’s test.

Course form of 22/WD/MC doesn’t stand out enough for the bookies to have taken a serious knife to his price this week despite the drop in grade, however it’s worth noting that he led here going into the weekend on debut in 2016 and was still in touch heading into Sunday before the wheels fell off. At his best the 24 year-old is a player well-suited to a tough course who can keep his card cleaner than most, and with his game seemingly on the ascendancy again I’m happy to side with Wang this week. Result: T48

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Soren Kjeldsen 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Finally I’m also taking a punt on Soren Kjeldsen who can handle a tough test and who showed some much improved form last week before falling away on Sunday. Paired alongside eventual winner Bernd Wiesberger from the 3rd final group, he was outscored by a massive 11 shots by his playing partner, however the fact that he witnessed first hand just how well the Austrian played to secure the title could provide the boost that he needs to turn his next Sunday around when in a promising position.

With boxes ticked for performances on courses of comparable difficulty – wins at Gleneagles at -9 and Valderrama at -8 correlate well with what we might expect this week, and if it gets really nasty then his -2 success at the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down may hold more relevance still – as well on linksy terrain and bentgrass-based putting surfaces, it’s only really his current and course form that might raise alarm bells as he otherwise fits this test nicely.

9 top-20 finishes from 18 career starts here at Le Golf National is encouraging from a course form perspective and over the years he’s steadily got to grips with the tee-to-green demands of this layout as his experience has grown. His last couple of attempts here haven’t been great, however on the strength of his overall record on this layout he has to be worth a look.

Having had his first taste of semi-contention last week since finishing 5th in Abu Dhabi right at the start of the year, once he’s dusted himself down after the disappointment of last week’s final round, he could be ready to contend here once again. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:15BST 14.10.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.