Before you read, please check out one half of DownThe18th’s weekly blog with Golf Monthly – The Open Qualifying
One of our favourite tournaments on the European calendar has finally arrived as we now enter the month of The Open Championship.
The Alstom Open de France has long been a stable part of the Tour and Le Golf National has been the host course since 1991.
And what a course it is. There is a reason that the 2018 Ryder Cup will be held here – picturesque, challenging but scoreable and just outside one of the trendiest cities in the world.
In order to win here, you will need to have played perfectly from tee to green, avoiding the water hazards and bunkers whilst working tirelessly on every aspect of your game – probably having used every golf club in the bag.
At times, an aggressive approach must be taken because the final stretch of holes are notoriously difficult and it makes sense to us that Pablo Larrazabal won here in 2008 because if anyone attacks pins it is the Spaniard.
Measuring at 7,347 yards (Par 71) it is sandwiched in-between long and short, giving just enough to every kind of player a chance, rewarding accuracy as well as distance, with the few narrow fairways and harsh hazards that await the very array tee-shots.
What does make interesting reading, especially in trying to find a winner, is how the stats have shaped the top 10 in the last 3 years.
In 2012 – The top 10 averaged 9.1 in GIR for that week. Whilst the average was 22.9 for putts per round
2011 – The top 10’s average for GIR was 19.4, whilst for putts per round it was 16.1
2010 – The top 10 averaged 11 in GIR and 36 for putts per round.
This basically means you need to have a very good iron game and solid ability on the greens. In all honesty we have mainly looked at this area, but have taken into account history around the course and form, because 3 out of the last 4 winners have had a top 10 at Le Golf National previously, whilst 9 out of the last 10 winners had played here at least twice before.
The field itself is one of the best Europe has seen so far, with Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Matteo Manassero and even a rare visit from a PGA stalwart – someone who, on a personal note, has won us more money than anyone this year and plenty for himself as well, Mr.Matt Kuchar. Great to have you on board. (Probably doing some early scouting for the Ryder Cup the cheeky sod!)
Alexander Noren (33/1 BetVictor)
The Swede has long been on our radar and generally one of our favourite players on the Tour. His form in 2013 is quite incredible and how he has not won yet is beyond us. A cracking 64 start in Germany before finishing T4, whilst a 64 on the Saturday in his home country put him in with a great shout of winning but a level par 70 meant he again, finished T4. Overall he has recorded 5 top 10s – all of which were inside the top 6 – and whilst he is yet to miss a cut in Europe this year, his lowest finish is T41 at the Volvo China Open. Now come on, that is some form! So when you think his odds are as high as they are, you do feel he warrants quite a substantial amount of hard-earned money, way more than the bigger names in the field.
His form here meanwhile, is not overly impressive, but a T15 last year did have a 67 within it, which is very encouraging considering his natural ability to shoot low this year.
As for his stats, as you can imagine they fit perfectly for this course across the board. 46th for GIR, 10th in putts per round and 10th in putts per GIR, whilst just for good measure, he is 6th in scrambling.
We have held ourselves from jumping on Noren but this does seem like the right time to put our good faith in an incredibly talented Swede.
Miguel Ángel Jiménez (50/1 Coral)
When we read about the skiing accident that Europe’s favourite father suffered, we never thought we would be selecting him as a ‘second’ pick halfway through 2013. But here we are, Jiménez has warranted a place because it just seemed to ridiculous not to go with him.
Firstly, you have to give the Spaniard enormous credit. A broken leg is not easy to recover from, but blimey has he turned his fortunes round in recent weeks. T4 at Wentworth, T14 at the Nordea Masters, T19 in Austria and T26 at the BMW International. That is some effort and shows that his game is in really good nick at the moment. Then when you think he has actually won at Le Golf National back in 2010, you do start to think this could be a magical, Hollywood-esque story come the final day. Good friend Jose Maria Olazabal nearly managed it in Ireland, so why should Miguel Ángel not be up there himself?
24th in driving accuracy, 57th for GIR, 36th for putts per GIR and 23rd for putts per round – how much of a perfect all round game is that?
Factoring all this in, we are pretty sure none of the above will be as important as what Paris will have to offer. Some of the finest hand-rolled cigars in the world can only keep Jiménez happy and surely motivated to push forward and get his 20th Tour win.
Bernd Wiesberger (35/1 Paddy Power)
When we saw Wiesberger tear apart his home tournament last year, we were so impressed with how brutal his long game was and how adept his touch around the greens looked. Naturally you are going to keep both eyes out for a young player of this calibre anytime they enter a tournament, but we have often been put off Wiesberger because of such short odds. So, thankyou Kuchar, Donald and McDowell because finally the chance to back the Austrian has arisen and although his 2 appearances here have not heralded a top 10, his form and tee to green ability make him irresistible.
T4 on his last outing in Germany before a T14 in Austria and solo 3rd in Sweden. He has hit the run of form that makes him incredibly dangerous in any tournament and this could be the one where he wins his 3rd Tour trophy.
23rd in driving distance, 38th for GIR, 21st for putts per GIR and 50th in putts per round proves his all round abilities and we simply could not ignore him at the odds that were being offered.
He may get called cheeseburger by some of the not-so-clever pun creators, but this is a golfer who is Bernding to get a 3rd title…Wow.
Alejandro Canizares (80/1 Various)
Our final two picks felt like they were always destined to be these two players. Both were backed last week and both didn’t quite get to a place. But after Paul Casey went on to win his first title since 2011 when we had backed him on a similar layout the week before (and many times throughout the season), you have to hedge your bets and cover people you really fancied last week.
Hence Alejandro Cañizares. He did at times look very useful last week but kept bogeying at the wrong time to challenge in any way. He eventually finished T10 and continued the run of form that makes us really wonder whether he is closing in on a second European Tour title. He perhaps should have won at Wentworth, his scrambling and putting was superb and this is where the confusion of Cañizares begins.
At the BMW PGA he eventually finished T4 and for the week was 2nd in putts per GIR and 5th for putts per round but was somehow 35th for GIR. Then at the Irish Open 2nd for putts per GIR and 4th for putts per round, whilst he was 45th in GIR. IF he could simply get his irons working as we know he can, then the Spaniard will walk away with whatever tournament that is. He will be confident after a solid effort last week, so we see no reason why on a course that requires great putting, he could challenge.
Back in 2010, a young and intuitive Cañizares finished T2 at this course (behind Jimenez) when his irons were in tune with his incredible putting. That week he lied 4th in putts per GIR and 8th in putts per round, whilst for GIR he was 14th. If he can play to a similar level like he did then, he will be near the top of the leaderboard. Plus, winning should be in his blood when his father, José Maria Cañizares won 5 times on the European Tour…
Richard Sterne (66/1 BetVictor)
Secondly Richard Sterne. Even without the fact that we had him last week, he looks so useful for this course and once again we feel that the bookies are overpricing him, considering he is a 2013 winner and in quite good form. At the end of the day, the whole point of gambling is to beat the bookies and when there is a distinct error in pricing, you have to jump on it!
He eventually finished T22 at the Irish Open, after putting himself in a good position with a 67 on the Saturday. Before that, he has not missed a cut since the first tournament of the season and barring the BMW PGA Championship, he consistently puts himself within a position to figure in the top 10 and whilst he has never actually figured in the mix up here, he has been on the periphery of a good finish.
He currently lies in 62nd for driving accuracy, 42nd for GIR – which as we’ve mentioned will be so important – 7th for putts per GIR and 17th in putts per round. For a number 5 pick he is a very exciting prospect but yes, this is probably last chance saloon in terms of us backing him.