Long thought of as a player who hadn’t won enough in relation to his talent, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox became a four-time DP World Tour winner last week. Picking up the biggest win of his career with an inspired comeback performance at Wentworth.
Fox entered Sunday’s final round three shots adrift of overnight leader, Ludvig Aberg and after a triple bogey on his 3rd hole, he looked like his race was run.
However, the supremely talented Aberg finally showed some frailties and had a day to forget. He and playing partners, Tommy Fleetwood and Connor Syme did little to inspire one another and all finished outside the top 5 by the end of the day.
Jon Rahm looked a potential contender to capitalise but it was Tyrrell Hatton who seized the initiative and at one point moved into a four-shot lead during Sunday’s final round. Though whilst Hatton started to stall on the back nine – to which he responded in typically evenly-tempered fashion – Fox began to claw back what he lost at the 3rd, getting back to level par for the day after a birdie at the 10th.
Four more birdies followed over his next seven holes and as an eagle putt from his equally-inspired playing partner, Aaron Rai slid agonisingly by on 18 – a putt that would’ve taken the eventual winner to a playoff had it dropped – the likeable New Zealander holed a six footer for a birdie of his own to claim what at one stage looked an improbable victory.
Despite the struggles of Aberg and Fleetwood in the final round, it was another strong showing from the in-form European Ryder Cup squad, with seven of the twelve – who all made the cut – finishing inside the top 10.
That trip to Italy is tantalisingly close at just one week away and with that, it is pretty apt that the DP World Tour’s final stop before that event is the Open de France at Le Golf National. The scene of Team Europe’s memorable 17 ½ – 10 ½ victory in 2018 and the last time the event took place in Europe.
The Open de France is Continental Europe’s oldest national championship, having first been staged in 1906. That event was won by Arnaud Massy, who as yet remains the only French male golfer to win a major championship – as the winner of the 1907 Open Championship.
Massy defended his trophy the following year, then going on to win another two (1911, 1925) and is tied with Seve Ballesteros on four wins (1977, 1982, 1985, 1986). Though they both trail Jersey’s Aubrey Boomer by one, who won the Open de France five times between 1921-1931.
Wins for multiple major winning, legendary golfers, such as James Braid (1910), Walter Hagen (1920), Bobby Locke (1952, 1953) and Byron Nelson (1955) add further prestige to the early history of the tournament. Something that has continued since the invention of the DP World Tour in 1972 and throughout the event’s constant status (excluding 2020 & 2021 due to covid) as a part of it.
Aside from Seve, we’ve seen wins for Nick Faldo (1983, 1988, 1989), Bernhard Langer (1984) and Colin Montgomerie (2000), among many other stars of the European game.
There have been seven home wins in the tournament (including Massy), with Thomas Levet the most recent of those in 2011. Since then, the best the home contingent has managed is 3rd, something achieved last year by Paul Barjon in an event won by Guido Migliozzi in sensational fashion.
Migliozzi entered the final round there five shots adrift of overnight leader, Rasmus Hojgaard and shot a scintillating closing 9-under 62 – four shots better than the next best score of the final round – to win by one over the Dane and claim his third DPWT title.
The Italian returns to defend this week and though not quite possessing the quality of field that was on show at Wentworth, there’s plenty to get excited about as we return to Le Golf National.
Le Golf National’s Albatros Course has hosted the Open de France almost exclusively since 1991, with just the 1999 and 2001 editions taking place away from the 2018 Ryder Cup venue since then.
The course was initially designed in 1990 by the duo of Hubert Chesneau and Robert von Hagge; undergoing renovations before the 2018 Ryder Cup. It plays as a par 71, measuring 7247 yards; with eleven par 4s (375-486 yards), four par 3s (177-210 yards) and three par 5s (558-595 yards).
The challenge awaiting the players is one of the most demanding on the DP World Tour, with the ten most recent editions of the Open de France averaging a winning score of just -10.
With much of the course exposed and water dangerously in-play on around half of the holes, it mixes aspects of US resort-style golf and holes which don’t look dissimilar to that which you’d find on many British links courses.
The rolling fairways are about average in width overall, with some very narrow and others particularly generous. They’re defended by water on seven holes, some strategically placed bunkering on others and are framed by large mounds which can be home to some gnarly rough.
Further strain is put on your ball-striking with approaches into the undulating greens. Though these putting surfaces are large, mere yardages can be deceptive, with many placed at an angle to your position in the fairway and appearing either long and narrow or short and shallow; tightening the landing spots on them.
They’re well-bunkered and have many run-offs leading into swales and hollows that are not easy to get up-and-down from, with the course ranking among the ten most challenging courses on which to scramble around on the DPWT. Water protects seven of them, including the opening two holes and makes for a very nervy finish, in-play on three of your final four.
The course does reward quality ball-striking, with many of the holes not particularly intimidating in length at least and as we saw last year, if conditions allow you can go low; with Guido Migliozzi and Rasmus Hojgaard both shooting rounds of 62.
However, the dangers here are so prevalent that if you’re just a little off you start to accumulate some big numbers and with tough conditions forecast, we should expect Le Golf National to once again chew up and spit out some quality operators.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Off-the-Tee
The course is a brute and tests every part of your game but without doubt the easiest way to play yourself out of the tournament is with errant ball-striking; due to the prevalence of those water hazards. With that we want to focus first and foremost on those strongest ball-strikers; a tactic that would’ve paid dividends in recent years.
Guido Migliozzi was the strongest iron player in the field when he won last year and ranked a strong 14th in greens-in-regulation. Rasmus Hojgaard in 2nd ranked 2nd in greens hit and drove the ball solidly; Thomas Pieters and Paul Barjon in 3rd were two of the best ball-strikers in the field, with both ranking top 5 in approach and Barjon leading the field with driver.
Nicolas Colsaerts produced a ball-striking masterclass when winning in 2019, ranking 3rd in GIR, 4th off-the-tee and 7th in approach. Though Hansen in 2nd was heavily reliant on the putter, George Coetzee and Kurt Kitayama in 3rd and 4th were strong in approach, ranking 7th and 12th respectively, whilst Kitayama was also 7th OTT.
Similarly to Colsaerts, Noren was all about the ball-striking in 2018, ranking 6th in GIR, 8th OTT and 9th in approach. Julian Suri in 2nd was 2nd in both approach and GIR; Russell Knox was 5th OTT and 9th in GIR and Chris Wood ranked 10th OTT and 14th in approach.
- SG: Putting
- Bogey Avoidance
The most strenuous challenges often require a bit of everything and players are rarely able to contend here without displaying some quality with the short game.
Migliozzi was 1st in scrambling and 10th on the greens last year and whilst the two prior winners, Nicolas Colsaerts and Alex Noren, weren’t quite up that level they performed solidly enough in both areas.
To finish, par will be a good score on many holes. Whether doing it through steady ball-striking or getting out of trouble with excellence on and around the greens, those who make fewer bogeys will hold the advantage.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Wales Open (Celtic Manor – Twenty-Ten Course)
Not only is Celtic Manor’s Twenty-Ten Course another ex-Ryder Cup venue but with its more exposed look, water in-play on various holes and high level of difficulty, it provides a similar challenge to that which the players will find this week.
Thongchai Jaidee, Alex Noren, Graeme McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez have all won at each course. Other former France winners, Nicolas Colsaerts, Tommy Fleetwood and Pablo Larrazabal have top 5s in Wales; Graeme Storm and Marcel Siem have top 10s.
Peter Uihlein has finished 2nd at both; Andy Sullivan, Jamie Donaldson and James Morrison have top 5s across the two.
Qatar Masters (Doha GC and Education City GC)
Plenty of strong performers in France have held good records out in the Middle East, with the Qatar Masters in particular (at either course to have hosted it) having bundles of correlating form. Both are exposed with plenty of water in-play and with wind often a big factor, they offer up several reoccurring difficulties.
Seven of the last ten winners in France have recorded good efforts in Qatar, with Migliozzi a runner-up there; Bernd Wiesberger finishing 3rd; Alex Noren, Graeme McDowell and Pablo Larrazabal all finishing 4th.
Chris Wood has finished 2nd here and is a winner out there; George Coetzee has multiple top 5s in both events; Thorbjorn Olesen has finished 2nd at both and Markus Kinhult has two 3rd-place finishes in Qatar to go with a 5th-place finish here.
Abu Dhabi Championship (Abu Dhabi GC)
Abu Dhabi Golf Club produced generally easier scoring than Le Golf National. However, as an exposed course with a large amount of water in-play, it has developed many form-ties with this event.
Tommy Fleetwood, Pablo Larrazabal and Martin Kaymer have won both events; Jamie Donaldson another past Abu Dhabi winner with a good record in France.
Graeme McDowell has twice finished 3rd there and Bernd Wiesberger has numerous top 10s, as does James Morrison. Marcel Siem has a 5th in Abu Dhabi to compliment his win in France.
Dubai Desert Classic (Emirates GC)
Though Emirates Golf Club is a touch tighter, it has similar bogey avoidance and short-game percentages, whilst has ample water in-play.
A few players have won both of these events, with Miguel Angel Jimenez the most recent in 2010. Six of the last ten Open de France winners have had at least a top 10 there, with Alex Noren a runner-up, Thongchai Jaidee finishing 3rd and Marcel Siem with two top 5s.
Peter Uihlein, Andy Sullivan and Thorbjorn Olesen have top 5s there; Alex Bjork has a 6th to go with his finishes of 3rd and 8th here; George Coetzee has two finishes of 7th or better.
Porsche European Open (Green Eagles GC)
The Green Eagles North Course is a watery, exposed and highly challenging course that can provide us with further clues this week.
Marcel Siem has finished 2nd there; Bernd Wiesberger has finished 5th and Guido Migliozzi has a 7th. Thomas Detry and Matt Southgate have both finished runner-up at Green Eagles and have good previous form here.
We’re set for a wet start to the week in France with rain predicted to fall before and over the first two days of the event. This will be accompanied by strong winds over the opening two rounds, with gusts reaching close to 40mph but both the rain and strongest winds should die down a little over the weekend.
Korean star, Tom Kim makes his debut in the event and is the highest ranked player in the field at #18. World #31 and last week’s Wentworth winner, Ryan Fox, #45 Min Woo Lee and #49 Billy Horschel make up the group of four from inside the world’s top 50 in attendance; Horschel and Min Woo also making their debut.
Guido Migliozzi defends and is one of four former winners teeing it up, along with 2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts, 2012 winner Marcel Siem and 2007 winner Graeme Storm.
There is a talented home contingent looking to become the first French winner in over ten years. They’re led by three-time DPWT winners, Victor Perez and Antoine Rozner; whilst highly rated 18-year-old Oihan Guillamoundeguy is one of the more interesting players with two wins on the Alps Tour already to his name.
Debutant, Tom Kim heads the betting at 10/1 and is followed by Ryan Fox and Min Woo Lee at 14/1; Aaron Rai at 16/1 and 18/1 shot, Billy Horschel rounding out the top 5 in the market.
It’s a strong top end but nowhere near the strength of last week and not to the same level as in Ireland two weeks ago. Counter in the fact that three of that top 5 are making their debut at a tough course this week and they’re an easy enough quintet to steer away from.
My attention is drawn a little down the betting and though backing him a couple of times to no avail in the last month or so, I’m returning to Thorbjorn Olesen this week.
1.5 pts Thorbjorn Olesen each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 33/1
I put Olesen up in the European Masters and Irish Open in the two weeks prior to last week and though he never really got going, he hardly disgraced himself with finishes of 40th and 45th. He hit his irons well both times, looking particularly good when leading the field in Ireland.
In each of those starts, he putted poorly and in Ireland drove it poorly, though conversely this flipped in his 33rd-place finish at Wentworth last week, as he ranked 12th on the greens and 28th off-the-tee but struggled in approach, putting up his first negative numbers in six starts. Whilst no doubt frustrating for the Dane, it at least shows that most areas of his game are in good shape at the moment and I’m hoping he can put them all together this week and make a strong play at adding to the title he won in Thailand earlier in the year.
Olesen’s win in Thailand was part of a strong start he made to this year, hitting the top six on a further three occasions when 3rd in the Soudal Open, 4th in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship and 6th in the Indian Open.
As with many of his recent performances those results were engineered by his strong iron game, ranking 7th on tour this season and is also 17th in greens-in-regulation. Rankings of 15th in scrambling, 16th in putting and 42nd off-the-tee show his high-quality all-round profile and contributes to him making fewer bogeys than most on tour, ranking 12th in bogey avoidance.
This skillset has translated into a good record for Olesen at Le Golf National, with two top 5s when 2nd in 2011 and 3rd in 2017. Runner-up finishes in Qatar and Abu Dhabi enhance his suitability to this test, as do several top 5s in the Dubai Desert Classic.
Olesen ranked top of my model for this week’s event. When combined with his excellent course and correlating form, his case for success in France is a compelling one.
1.5 pts Antoine Rozner each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 35/1
Antoine Rozner had been enjoying a year of consistency prior to his two latest missed cuts. However, he only missed by one last week at Wentworth, driving the ball and scrambling well and coming here after an 11th on debut last year, I’m taking him to become the first French winner of the event in twelve years.
Those two missed cuts were Rozner’s first since March in the Kenya Open and only his second and third of the year in twenty appearances. He started the season excellently with a win in Mauritius at the end of 2022 and carried that form over into this year, recording three top 6s in his opening six starts.
His form hasn’t been quite as impressive since that but perfectly reasonable, with him picking up five top 25s, including a 20th-place finish in The Open five starts ago – his best major result.
Rozner has been one of the standout ball-strikers on tour this season, ranking 4th in GIR, 25th in approach and 37th OTT. The short game has largely been better than previous years too, ranking 35th in scrambling and 55th on the greens, whilst he’s another player who manages to keep bogeys off his card, ranking 11th in bogey avoidance.
He hit the ball well when recording that 11th in his Open de France debut last year and also looked good on the greens.
The Frenchman highlighted an encouraging ability to play tough conditions in Qatar in 2021, where he won an extremely blustery event with a score of -8. That was the second of his three wins on tour – all of which have come on similarly exposed courses – and leads me to believe he is the most likely of the home players this week.
1 pt Ewen Ferguson each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 55/1
Ewen Ferguson has been a little out of sorts in recent weeks after his excellent 12th in the Scottish Open. However, like Rozner, he’s another player who’s shown a liking for tough courses/conditions and despite his missed cut here on debut last year, I’m taking him to return to form in France.
Ferguson’s 12th in the star-studded Scottish Open was the last result in an impressive part of the year. From the middle of March – July, Ferguson hit the top 15 six times in ten starts, recording three top 5s when 3rd in the SDC Championship, 4th in the Jonsson Workwear Open and 4th in the British Masters.
Since then he’s missed the cut at The Open, European Masters and last week at Wentworth, recording a best finish of 35th in the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Although, all areas of his game have fired intermittently during this period and he doesn’t look all that far from putting in a big performance.
Ferguson’s approach play is the key, ranking 12th in GIR and 17th in approach this season. He compliments that with solid top 50 rankings OTT and in scrambling, whilst ranks 21st in bogey avoidance.
His missed cut here last year was far from a disaster. He only missed by two and shot under par in the first round, ranking as one of the best drivers in the field over the opening two rounds and putting solidly too. Ultimately a couple of double bogeys – which are easy enough to amass at Le Golf National – during his second round proved his undoing.
Ferguson was a two-time winner on tour last season, with both wins coming in challenging playing conditions. The first one in Qatar appeals in particular, as he shot -7 to win on a very windy week and followed with a win at Galgorm Castle a few months later, where a score of -12 was enough for him to pick up the trophy. Giving me confidence that he’s as well equipped as most if it turns into a slog this week.
1 pt Julien Brun each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 60/1
Julien Brun has looked in good nick in recent weeks. He can rely on his impressive iron play and short game to tame Le Golf National and win a memorable first DPWT title this week.
Brun started the season in fine form, finishing 3rd behind Rozner in Mauritius and much like his compatriot he carried that form over into this year.
He kicked off 2023 with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi but immediately put that right by finishing an excellent 5th in the Dubai Desert Classic on his next start; following that with a further five top 25s in his next seven starts, including another top 10 when 7th in the Kenya Open.
Barring an underwhelming run from the Scandinavian Mixed to the Scottish Open, Brun has maintained a decent level of form and following that subpar spell he’s returned to better form over his last three starts. Finishing 25th in the Czech Masters, 16th in the Irish Open and 35th in last week’s BMW PGA.
He lost form with his irons during the poor run and it’s no surprise to see his improvement in results coincide with better approach play. He ranks 12th in that area for the season and is 29th in GIR.
Though the driver is a weakness, he makes up for this with an electric short game, ranking 7th in putting and 16th in scrambling, which helps him in ranking 6th in bogey avoidance. A strong collection of stats for this event.
After missing the cut on his first two visits and finishing 62nd on his third, Brun achieved his best finish to date in the event last year, finishing 13th. His 5th in Dubai earlier this year is another plus, whilst he’s also gone well in the European Open in the past. All of which signifies a player who looks ready for a good performance.
1 pt Thriston Lawrence each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 80/1
Thriston Lawrence played some solid golf when we were on him at Wentworth last week. He eventually missed the cut by two but opened the event under par and started round two well before a poor middle of the round sent him tumbling down the leaderboard. I’m willing to forgive him that minor blip as he’s been hitting the ball well of late and can bounce back here, at a place where he finished 20th on debut in 2022.
Lawrence finished 3rd in Ireland two weeks ago thanks to an excellent closing 66. A performance that was engineered by a strong ball-striking display; ranking 13th OTT, 22nd in GIR and 29th in approach.
That was his first performance of any real quality since winning the BMW International in Germany earlier in the year, which was his fourth on tour since the end of 2021.
He’s a player who can blow a little hot and cold, though he largely maintains quality with his ball-striking, ranking 30th OTT, 31st in approach and 37th in GIR on tour this season. Something which should serve him well this week.
He finished 20th here last year, firing three under par rounds. His efforts in correlating events are limited, though he does have encouraging top 25 finishes in the European Open and in Qatar; both which came last year.
I simply felt Lawrence was a touch overpriced this week, he’s larger or around the same price as many players who haven’t achieved half of what he has. With the quality of that recent effort in Ireland, along with his promising debut showing last year, I felt he was worth another shot in this weaker field.
0.75 pts Renato Paratore each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 125/1
I liked a couple at larger prices, with strong ball-striking Frenchman, David Ravetto one of the last off the shortlist. They were all passed over for Italian, Renato Paratore, who despite having a poor record here, seems to have found a little more control with the driver this year and has strong correlating form that suggests he’s capable of much better.
Paratore lost his full playing privileges on tour last season and has spent this year mixing it between the DPWT and Challenge Tour. He’s been rock solid, missing just five cuts in twenty-one starts across the tours and though one of those did come on his last start on the Challenge Tour, his two prior efforts on the DPWT were his best of the year so far.
He finished 21st in the Czech Masters three starts ago, where his putter did most of the heavy lifting. Paratore stepped that up on his next start at Crans in the European Masters, finishing 13th and looking good across the board but particularly in approach, ranking 16th – his best approach display in two years.
Paratore typically excels with the short game, ranking 23rd in putting and 44th in scrambling this season. However, his ball-striking has been much improved. Though only ranking 72nd in approach and 79th in driving accuracy, these stats are considerable improvements on last year’s numbers and signal a player who has become less erratic with the long game, which he will need to display this week.
He has made just one cut here, when finishing 40th in 2019. Though with a 2nd in the European Open, 3rd in Wales and 4th in Qatar, I’m sure he’s capable of a better performance.
Paratore can achieve that performance this week if the better ball-striking holds up and go a long way to earning his full return to tour next season.