Open de France Preview, Picks & Analysis
Jon Rahm will make his long-awaited debut on European soil when he plays in HNA Open de France at Le Golf National, a course he will be hoping to play again as a key member of Thomas Bjorn's European Ryder Cup team next year.
The 22-year-old Spaniard is the most exciting European golfer to emerge since Rory McIlroy and his appearance in France marks the start of a run of tournaments that will surely see him continue his rise up the world rankings. He is already firmly established in the top 10 and after playing in Paris he will head to the Irish Open, and, finally, The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, where he will start as one of the favourites.
Barely 12 months ago few people had heard of him, but he nearly won the Canadian Open and secured his PGA Tour card in double-quick time before winning the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Ever since then, he has been in contention almost every time he tees up the ball.
The French Open is the latest in the Rolex Series, with a bumper prize fund of $7m and a bucketload of world ranking points on offer. Former World Amateur Number One Rahm is third on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai Rankings after finishing tied third on his first European Tour start in the WGC-Mexico Championship before reaching the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where he took World Number One Dustin Johnson to the last hole.
He is now looking forward to showing European fans why he is one of golf’s most exciting young talents on a course where he hopes to make his Ryder Cup debut in14 months time. "I can’t wait to come back to Europe and play in front of the European fans in Paris," said Rahm. "The HNA Open de France is one of Europe’s biggest tournaments with a great history and I’m really looking forward to being part of it.
"So many Spanish players have had a lot of success at this events over there years, with Seve [Ballesteros], José Maria [Olazabal] and Miguel [Angel Jimenez] having won the title and I’d love to add my name to that list for sure. It’s going to be a fun few weeks playing in France and then going on to the Irish Open."
Ballesteros won The Open when he was 22 and comparisons between the pair are inevitable, but Rahm is an entirely different sort of golfer. Unlike Seve, Rahm finds most fairways and has no need of the miraculous powers of recovery that Ballesteros possessed. Quite simply, he has no weaknesses.
Sweden’s Alex Noren is targeting back-to-back victories in the Rolex Series after his sensational victory at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, when he came from nowhere to take the European Tour's flagship tournament with a final round of 62. The victory was his fifth in 17 European Tour appearances and lifted him to eighth in the world rankings.
The 34-year-old, who then finished 15th on home soil in the Nordea Masters, is hoping to extend his remarkable run of form in continental Europe's oldest national Open. He was eighth at Le Golf National last year when the winner was Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.
“Winning the BMW PGA Championship was obviously a great way to start the Rolex Series and I’m really looking forward to the second event in France now,” said Noren. “The Rolex Series is something all the European Tour players have been excited about. These have always been great events but now they are outstanding and we are all very happy about that.
“The BMW PGA Championship definitely had a different feel to it this year and I’m sure the HNA Open de France will too. It is another historic event with some amazing past champions. I’ve always enjoyed playing Le Golf National. Like Wentworth it is an iconic course and a great challenge so hopefully I can play well there too and be in contention on Sunday afternoon!”
Jimenez won in 2010, Thomas Levet in 2011, Marcel Siem in 2012, Graeme McDowell in 2013 and 2014, Bernd Weisberger in 2015 and in 2016 the champion was Jaidee.
McDowell returns to France in search of a moral-boosting win. The 37-year-old Northern Irishman now plays most of his golf on the PGA Tour and although he has only missed two cuts all season in 13 starts and although he has recorded nine top-30 finishes he has not looked like winning. On his two appearances on the European Tour in 2017, he finished in a tie for 28th at the Qatar Masters and tied 13th at the Dubai Desert Classic. He will be frustrated because he knows that his game is close to the sort of form that saw him win the US Open in 2010 but it is a while since he was last in contention for a victory. As a two-time former champion, he should relish a return to France, but he missed the cut 12 months ago.
French fans will, of course, be looking to cheer a home winner up the 72nd fairway and it would be no surprise if that were to happen because golf in France is in rude health. Levet's victory in 2011 was hugely popular. Jean-Francois Remesy won in 2004 and 2005 but the last home winner before that was Jean Garaialde way back in 1969.
There will be a huge weight of expectation on the shoulders of the likes of Alexander Lexy, Victor Dubuisson, Gregory Bourdy and Romain Langasque. Levy is a world-class golfer whose victory in the Volvo China Open earlier this year was his fourth on the European Tour. The 26-year-old is a breath of fresh air who always plays with a smile on his face - the polar opposite of countryman Dubuisson.
To Win: Jon Rahm. A superstar
Each Way: Alexander Levy. Proud and passionate Frenchman
Each Way: Alex Noren. Now a world-class golfer
Jon Rahm. Would love to win on European soil
Alexander Levy. Fans will lift him
Alex Noren. Seldom plays poorly these days
Victor Dubuisson. Could be his week
Romain Langasque. In need of a breakthrough
Bern Wiesberger. Off the back off another good major performance
George Coetzee. Showing signs of life
Graeme McDowell. Looking for a hat-trick
Martin Kaymer. Very, very close to his best
Tommy Fleetwood. Buzzing after the US Open
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