EW Terms: 1/5 Odds | 8 Places
After they got thumped there in the 2018 Ryder Cup, it would be somewhat ironic if an American were to win at Le Golf National this week. But Stewart Cink's game is more about brain than brawn so he could be far more suited to this test than his compatriots were last September. While it's 10 years since he won the Open Championship, don't think that Cink is just a name from the past now biding time until the Champions Tour; the guy can still play. On his last visit to Europe he made the top 20 in the Open at Royal Portrush and two starts on this season's PGA Tour have yielded tied 28th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and tied ninth in last week's Houston Open. Cink may be 46 but Thongchai Jaidee was that exact same age when he landed this title in 2016. As was Miguel Angel Jimenez when he triumphed in 2010. Cink's strong recent iron play suggests he may just have a crack at joining them.
We saw at last year's Ryder Cup what a stern test Le Golf National is at this time of year and this week's wind forecast suggests scoring will be very tough. I'm looking for a good ball-striker, liable to keep the ball in play and minimise bogeys. Statistically, Richie Ramsay precisely fits the bill. The Scot can generally be found high up both the driving accuracy and greens in regulation stats and he's good at minimising damage - Ramsay ranks tenth among this field for scrambling over the past year and ninth for bogey avoidance this season. He challenged quite strongly for this title when fifth back in 2011 and arrives in decent form after top-ten finishes at Wentworth and in the Dunhill Links.
I'd already backed both Mike and Dave's picks before they'd selected them so they get a big thumbs-up but it's hard after that. The front of the market is largely populated by out-of-form players and the one I really like, given he's a great scrambler who hits lots of greens in regulation, and is bang in-form, is Austria's Matthias Schwab but I don't like taking 16/1 about someone yet to win on the European Tour so I'm going leftfield with the promising Finn, Kalle Samooja. It's almost a year to the day since he won the Hainan Open on the Challenge Tour and it's ten years since he became the French Amateur Stroke Play Champion. He's contended in a few events lately - most notably the Scottish Open and the European Masters (lost in a playoff) - and he signed off in Italy on Sunday with a five-under-par 66. A top-eight finish is certainly plausible at a juicy 125/1.
It's not the star-studded field of past tournaments at Le Golf National and we have to take fairly tight odds about some non-winners, long ago winners or just untrustworthy sorts, but someone will lift the trophy and I will take a stab at Callum Shinkwin being that man. Though without a European Tour trophy the young Englishman has had his brushes with success and brings a sparse but encouraging bit of course form to this week's tournament, a debut ninth in 2016 being the highlight. More important is current form which shows Shinkwin performing with aplomb at the KLM Open (fifth) and Alfred Dunhill Links (10th).
Jamie Donaldson's season-long stats on the European Tour make for excellent reading when assessing a player's suitability for the Le Golf National test. Accuracy from the tee always helps around this venue (Donaldson ranks highly among this week's field for Driving Accuracy), but what you do after your tee shot is of great importance, especially when it comes to getting up and down from around the green. Donaldson ranks 26th on Tour for Greens in Regulation, but the Welshman's Around the Green stats are mightily impressive; 37th for Scrambling, 6th in Sand Saves and 1st in Strokes Gained Around the Green. With those stats it's easy to see why in his last eight starts Donaldson has finished T9 at the Scottish Open, T5 at the Scandinavian Masters, and recorded creditable finishes at the European Masters, KLM Open and Open de Espana, this despite generally having a cold putter. The popular veteran will need a decent week with the flat stick, but if that happens then he's more than capable of contending here again, just like he did in 2013 (5th) and 2014 (6th).