This week in France not only do we have one of the best courses on Tour and also one of the strongest events year after year, but there is an added interest. The host course Le Golf National is also hosting the Ryder Cup in late September which brings about a very intriguing aspect to an already exciting betting heat. Bizarrely only Justin Thomas has made the trip from the prospective U.S. team but pretty much everyone competing for a spot on the European team is in the field. With the exception of those that are pretty much locks; Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. This means that the 2nd tier of European players will be absolutely desperate to show Thomas Bjorn just how well they can play the course. Especially given how competitive the 4 captain picks will be at the end of the summer. Who will cope with that added pressure? Who might come through from under the radar to grab a Rolex Series win and throw their name in the hat? Which Ryder Cup veteran might return to form at a course they know better than most? It looks set to be an excellent event with many different stories unfolding as the week progresses.
The course is an exposed inland links but it also has lots of water in play. It’s a 7330 yard par 72 that generally tests most aspects of the game and it is a course that really can’t be overpowered. Such is the undulating nature of the ground, missing the fairways can be doubly punished. The rough has so many slopes and hillocks that not only can the golf ball be nestled in thick green rough but the player could be standing on a 30 degree incline while trying to gouge their ball out. Bubba Watson famously found this out when he appeared here back in 2011 and he struggled to a 74-74 missed cut. That requirement for accuracy off the tee is further boosted by a look at recent winners; Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thongchai Jaidee and Bernd Weisberger. With relatively small, undulating and fast greens, accuracy is also paramount with the irons. The last 5 winners have ranked 1st, 18th, 2nd, 22nd and 1st in GIR. As like any course with an undulating, exposed links nature, scrambling is also hugely important. Fleetwood’s poor course form prior to winning last year can probably be attributed to his short game improvement. Again the last 5 winners ranked 9th, 2nd, 3rd, 15th and 2nd in scrambling.
Of further interest here will be how bad they decide to leave the rough this week. There is no question that letting it grow for the Ryder Cup will benefit the European team and with so few US players in the field it will probably pay to have it playing as similarly as they can to September.
Le Golf National is one of those classic tests that simply rewards well struck shots and while one big number can ruin a round there are enough birdie opportunities out there for a player willing to plot their way around the course. While the powerful Justin Thomas has more than enough ability to win here on his debut I’m certainly leaning to those who have experience of the course and perhaps the more patient types. Jon Rahm probably doesn’t quite have the temperament yet to win around here for me and I’m also happy to leave him out. With power taking a bit of a backseat many of the shorter hitters will be targeting Le Golf National as a chance to make some good money in a Rolex Series event.
Tommy Fleetwood returns looking to defend the title he won here last year and for me he looks the man to beat. Luckily the presence of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas in the field gives us a decent price about Fleetwood and having thought about it I simply have to back him. He is in better form than anyone in the field and despite his previous poor form at the course, you would struggle to design a better course for Tommy than an exposed links course with a premium on accurate ball-striking. Tommy showed us in January that he is now not only comfortable winning but also defending titles as he successfully retained the Abu Dhabi Championship. His missed cut last week doesn’t worry me too much as he was no doubt still coming down from the excitement of being properly in contention at the US Open. Fleetwood is a player that I often shy away from backing as it took me a while to believe the hype as I really didn’t rate his short game. But while I still don’t think he is a great putter he has very much improved his scrambling and he does seem to at least hole his share of longer putts now. With his tee-to-green game currently being well inside the top 10 in world golf, he only needs to putt averagely to beat fields like this on a course like this. I really think he will contend again and I think we are getting a very fair each way price to have a confident bet on.
I did consider leaving it at that but I couldn’t resist a small play on somewhat course specialist Mike Lorenzo Vera. With so many repeat top 10 offenders at Le Golf National I think there is a good chance he can go well again on home turf. He looks to have improved again this year and has been threatening to win throughout 2018. It would be a hell of an effort to get his first European Tour win in his national Open but making the each way money looks well within his capabilities. Last year he finished 3rd and in 2015 he finished 6th. Having taken his game to a new level I think the 66/1 looks a shade too big.
I’m also struggling to leave Rafa Cabrera-Bello out here given his brilliant form and his 4th place in 2016. He has been threatening to win a bigger event than this so far in 2018 but he showed with last year’s Scottish Open win just what he can do at this time of year in these sort of fields. We backed him a few weeks ago and he delivered the place money to continue his run of impressive results on the European Tour. RCB ranks 3rd in scrambling on the ET for 2018 and he is another whose short game improvement has helped him perform on a consistent basis in any field in the world. At times earlier in his career he was difficult to watch such was the chasm between his tee-to-green game and his short game. With that no longer being the case it is possible to back him with the confidence that you should get a run for your money at a venue like Le Golf National. Much like Fleetwood an exposed links type course where accuracy is crucial should play to Rafa’s strengths.
Martin Kaymer has made the top 20 here 8 out of his 11 events with six of those being top 10s and of course one of those being his 2009 win. He has also posted top 20s in 4 of his last 6 European Tour events. He loves the course and it suits his all-round game. It has been well documented lately that his chipping yips have been holding him back a little but there were signs of improvement in that area last week as he finished runner-up to Matt Wallace in Germany. His odds are suggesting he has a 36% chance of posting a top 20 whereas his course form tells us that is more like a 73% chance. I think a player of his ability arriving in form looks massively over priced for a top 20 here and it ranks one of my more confident bets this year. I’m staking this to pay for the rest of the bets in the tournament should he oblige.
Tommy Fleetwood – 2pts ew @ 14/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Rafa Cabrera Bello – 1pt ew @ 20/1 (Skybet)
Mike Lorenzo Vera – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Martin Kaymer – 4pts Top 20 @ 7/4
Weekly pts advised = 11pts