Open de France Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE last time the eyes of the golfing world were focused on Le Golf National it was to watch Thomas Bjorn’s European team regain the Ryder Cup in sensational fashion. On those three spellbinding days Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Monilari teamed up to win all four of their matches together, and the Italian capped an incredible week by winning his singles match too, finishing the week with a maximum five points from five. And thus, Moliwood was born.
Sadly, neither man will be in the field for this week’s French Open. Fleetwood, who hasn’t missed a cut all year, has decided instead to play in the CJ Cup in South Korea, while Molinari is taking the week off. The tournament is being played much later in the year than normal, which means that the weather could certainly be an issue. And the absence of the Tour’s superstars opens the door for a number of players who are literally playing for their careers over the coming weeks as the season nears its conclusion.
There will be a huge number of home golfers in the field, all desperate to win in front of a passionate French gallery. There was been a huge upsurge in interest in the sport since last year’s Ryder Cup and those fans would love to cheer a home-grown champion to victory. Alex Levy, Romain Wattel and Julien Quesne are proven winners, but all of them have been struggling of late. Victor Perez is a different kettle of fish. He changed his life forever by winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship ahead of a world-class field in what was just his 29th start as a European Tour player.
There will also be plenty of interest in the performance of double major champion and former world No 1 Martin Kaymer, who has never missed what is continental Europe’s oldest national open since turning professional and has an impressive record in the event where he took the title in 2009. Kaymer defeated Lee Westwood in a play-off in Paris to claim the third of his 11 European Tour wins to date and has a total of six top ten finishes in his previous 12 appearances.
The German star’s victories includes the 2010 US PGA Championship and the 2014 U.S. Open, while he has also been part of four European Ryder Cup teams, winning three times. The man whose winning putt sealed the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012 is looking forward to his latest appearance at the most recent Ryder Cup venue, where Europe defeated the United States 17.5 – 10.5 last September.
Kaymer joins a field that includes defending champion Alex Noren, who won the final point in Team Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph in Paris in 2018, and the victorious European Captain, Thomas Bjørn. A host of winners on the 2019 Race to Dubai will also tee it up in the Amundi Open de France, including Belgian Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters, Sebastian Soderberg and Marcus Kinhult from Sweden, and South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Kaymer said: “I’m looking forward to returning to the French Open – it’s a tournament that I have never missed in my career and I’m proud to be a winner of the event. Le Golf National is a course that I love, it’s up there with the best in Europe for me, along with Valderrama, St Andrews and Wentworth and I’ve done well there in the past. It’s a ball striking course and it requires everything from your game. I’m not surprised that it was such a great venue for The Ryder Cup in 2018.
“The tournament has a long history and a great list of former winners, and I’m looking forward to teeing it up in France again.”
It was won last year by Sweden’s Alex Noren - a victory that all but secured his place at the Ryder Cup. The Swede entered the fourth round seven shots off the lead. He reached the turn in 35 and birdied the 12th, 16th and 17th to set the target at seven under but was still behind Julian Suri as he signed for his closing 67.
The American put his second on the 18th in the water to surrender a double-bogey and with England's Chris Wood bogeying the 15th and 17th, Noren was the last man standing in Paris. Suri and Wood finished a shot off the lead alongside Scot Russell Knox.
Kinhult had entered the day with a two-shot lead but he signed for a closing 76 to finish at five under alongside World Number Five Jon Rahm and England's Matthew Southgate. World Number Two Justin Thomas, Swede Alexander Björk and Spanish duo Jorge Campillo and Sergio Garcia finished three shots off the lead.
Noren's last win came in similar fashion at the 2017 BMW Championship - the inaugural Rolex Series event - when he posted a stunning 62 on Sunday from seven back and was left to wait and see if he had done enough at Wentworth Club.
“When you're out there you really want this win and it felt unbelievable to get it today,” he said. “It's what I was putting and practising for, maybe a play-off, it was unreal how it went and I didn't expect that.”
The victory took his total to 10 on the European Tour and extended his run of winning seasons to four - in which time he won seven times. But, by and large, 2019 has been a year to forget for the Swede, who has seen his world ranking tumble as he has tried to juggle life on the European and PGA Tours.
Suri set up a tap-in for birdie with a wonderful tee-shot on the second and then took advantage of the par five third before handing a shot back on the next. Wood got in real trouble on the third, finding the thick rough off the tee and failing to get out of it before playing a poor chip over the back of the green for a double-bogey. With Kinhult birdieing from six feet on the same hole, he led by four, but a triple-bogey on the next after finding rough off the tee and sending his third onto a cart-path brought him back to the pack. Kinhult then made eight pars in a row and Suri was the first man to join him at the top, putting his second from 251 yards to three feet on the par five ninth for an eagle, and then holing from four feet on the tenth.
At that point, Noren was still three shots off the lead after a tee-shot to tap-in range on the second and approaches to inside ten feet on the fifth and 12th to go with a bogey on the fourth. Wood got on the ninth in two and holed from eight feet on the tenth to join the lead himself and while Suri edged ahead on the 14th, he gave the shot straight back on the next. Noren's tee-shot on the 16th left him five feet for birdie and when he holed a long putt on the next to bring a big celebration, he was the leader in the clubhouse.
Suri's double-bogey on the last left Wood as Noren's only competition but the Englishman failed to get up and down after missing the green on the 15th and 17th to hand Noren the title. And how he would love to repeat that win this week.
The tournament was won in 2011 by Thomas Levet, in 2012 by Marcel Siem, in 2013 and 2014 by Graeme McDowell, in 2015 by Bernd Wiesberger, in 2016 by Thongchai Jaidee, in 2017 by Tommy Fleetwood and last year by Noren.
Thomas Pieters. Brilliant ball striker
Alex Noren. Ready for another victory surely
Erik Van Rooyen. Enjoying a great year
Thomas Pieters. Should be winning more often
Alex Noren. Will return here with great memories
Erik Van Rooyen. So consistent
Chris Wood. In need of something special
Victor Perez. Huge confidence after winning at St Andrews
Alex Levy. Looking for inspiration in front of home fans
Shubhankar Singh. Showing welcome signs of form once again
Kurt Kitayama. Enjoying a dream rookie season
Joost Luiten. All depends on his putting
Martin Kaymer. Too good to keep struggling
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