KLM Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
MATT WALLACE will aim to put the disappointment of missing out on a Ryder Cup wild card behind him as he attempts to win the KLM Open, which would represent his fourth victory of an extraordinary season. While nobody would deny that Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, was faced with an incredibly tough decision when naming his four wild cards, there are many (your correspondent included) who believe that Wallace can feel particularly aggrieved not to have been selected, especially when you look at the form of Sergio Garcia and the recent struggles of Henrik Stenson, two of the men Bjorn has called up for duty.
The manner of Wallace’s victory at the Made in Denmark, which was the final counting event for the European team, indicated that he was exactly the sort of character the team needs. It was also his third victory of the year and his fourth success in little over 12 months. If Wallace made a mistake, it was in the tournaments he won - they simply didn’t carry enough prize money. To his credit, the Englishman has kept his feelings about missing out to himself, knowing that the best way to prove Bjorn wrong is by letting his clubs do the talking.
He will join a decent field in a tournament that has boasted some high-calibre winners over the years. In 2011 it was won by Simon Dyson, in 2012 by Peter Hanson, in 2013 and 2016 by Joost Luiten, in 2014 by Paul Casey, in 2015 by Thomas Pieters and last year by Romain Wattel. Luiten, the local favourite, is in a race against time as he recovers from wrist surgery. Having previously announced that he would be unable to play, the two-time champion changed his mind, but his participation still hangs in the balance.
"My wrist came out of the plaster very well, if everything goes well I have a chance to play in the KLM Open,” he said. “I have signed up for the tournament as I still want to keep all of my options open. The mobility and strength still has to come back to the wrist and I will consult with my surgeon and make a decision. I am not going to take any risks, and I also say it is not just about me at the KLM Open. It is a very strong tournament with really big names."
Former winners who will be taking part include Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher, and others in the field include major champions Padraig Harrington and the big-hitting Argentine Angel Cabrera. Shubhankar Sharma, a two-time winner this season, will also be looking for a return to his early-season form, and you can expect challenges from Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Eddie Pepperell, another Englishman who narrowly missed out on the Ryder Cup.
Harrington and Westwood will both be heading to Le Golf National as non-playing vice-captains but they each proved in recent weeks that they can still play a bit. Harrington nearly won the Czech Masters and Westwood came close to upstaging Wallace in Denmark before losing in a four-man playoff. Westwood’s form sparked speculation that he might yet be chosen to play in France but he was the first to admit that his game is nowhere near good enough now. He has played little golf in 2018 but the competitive fires still burn brightly and he would love to show the young guns that he still has what it takes.
If Wallace is disappointed to have missed out on Le Golf National, it is as nothing when compare with the way that Alex Levy must be feeling. The hugely talented French golfer made no secret of his desperation to make the team and he showed some promising signs earlier in the year before ultimately coming up short. He is a golfer who is capable of incredible bursts of scoring, a man who feeds off the gallery and spends most of his time playing the game with a smile on his face. Can you imagine how the French galleries would have reacted to him? It is to be hoped that Bjorn can still find some kind of role for him and also for Wattell, the defending KLM Open champion. Like his countryman Levy, Wattel is an infuriatingly inconsistent performer. When he is on song he looks well-nigh unbeatable. The problem is that those days are increasingly few and far between.
When Wattel arrived in Holland last year he had recorded 25 top-10 finishes in his previous 185 starts without winning. He was in control for most of the final round before surviving a late scare when he missed the green with his approach to the last. He successfully got up and down for par and a closing 69, which gave him a 15 under total. That was one ahead of Canadian Austin Connelly, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat – Wattel’s main challenger for much of the day - finding water with his second to the 18th and dropping to 12 under with the subsequent double bogey.
Wattel’s victory was all the more remarkable as he came into the week down at 130th in the Race to Dubai. “I came to this tournament, I was playing poorly to be honest,” he said. “The week before I struggled badly with my game. I am happy with the way I played all week. I’ve been putting really bad the past two years – I think I’m a really good putter but the past two years were tough for me.
“I never thought about the score, I just tried to play my best. I was just trying to be as high as I could on the leaderboard but it was very tight. I just tried to play my own game. I have been in contention before and while I had not won before I knew what I had to do; I knew what I had to expect and thankfully this time it was my week. It feels amazing to win for the first time – I am so happy right now.”
How he would enjoy those same feelings again this week.
Paul Dunne. Man with a point to prove
Matt Wallace. Would love to rub Thomas Bjorn’s nose in it
Lee Westwood. There’s life in the old dog yet
Paul Dunne. A class act
Matt Wallace. Hugely underrated
Lee Westwood. Still has a few more wins in him
Padraig Harrington. Has his moments
Alex Levy. Emotional and inspirational
Martin Kaymer. Still looking to rediscover his best form
George Coetzee. An underachiever of the highest order
Richie Ramsay. Looking for a big, big week
Ross Fisher. Class act
Eddie Pepperell. Enjoying a terrific season
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