We're off to Paris this week where the Open de France will be staged at this year's Ryder Cup venue, Le Golf National, and Steve Rawlings fancies a couple of recent European Tour winners can go well again...
"He sandwiched a missed cut at Shinnecock in-between a win in Italy and a runners-up spot in Germany, where he flew home on Sunday with a sensational 11-under-par 61 to post a lead that for some time looked unassailable."
France's Arnaud Massy, who won the Open Championship in 1907, won the first two editions of this event in 1906 and 1907 and the Open de France is the oldest national opens in Continental Europe. The tournament wasn't played during the war years and so it celebrated its centenary edition two years so this is the 102nd staging. The Open de France has been a mainstay on the European Tour since its inception in 1972.
Falling where it does on the schedule, just a few weeks before the Open Championship, the event nearly always attracts a high-quality field, but I'm surprised to see that only Justin Thomas has made the effort from the US Ryder Cup team, given this is the venue for the biannual bash in three months time.
The Open de France kicks off a run of three straight Rolex Series events, with the Irish and Scottish Opens following, before we head to Carnoustie for the Open Championship.
Le Golf National, Paris
Par 71, 7,249 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 72.26
Le Golf National only opened in 1990 but it's already establishing itself as a truly great venue that provides an extremely demanding test.
It's a fairly exposed track with undulating fairways of average width. The greens are bentgrass, of an average size, and they usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on holes 1, 2, 13, 15, 16 and 18.
It's a stadium style course designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Van Hagge and it's going to make for a tremendous Ryder Cup in three month's time.
The course underwent some significant changes prior to the 2016 edition, in preparation for the Ryder Cup.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:30 on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2012 - Tommy Fleetwood -12
2016 - Thongchai Jaidee -11
2015 - Bernd Wiesberger -13
2014 - Graeme McDowell -5
2013 - Graeme McDowell -9
What Will it Take to Win the Open de France?
Tommy Fleetwood drove the ball very nicely 12 months ago, ranking 25th for Driving Distance and third for Driving Accuracy and that's better than the majority of winners drive here. The DD average for the last 14 winners is 34.9 and the average DA ranking for the 14 is 21.1 so this is one of those rare weeks where being straight off the tee is more important that hitting it miles but what you do after the drive is more important.
Fleetwood ranked first for Greens In Regulation and eight of the last 13 winners have ranked inside the top-three for GIR so that's a key stat and so is Scrambling...
Fleetwood only ranked ninth for Scrambling but Peter Uihlein in second ranked first and Scrambling would be my idea of the most important stat to look at.
Jaidee ranked second for Scrambling when he won two years ago, the 2015 winner, Bernd Wiesberger, ranked third and the top-five scramblers all finished inside the top-six places. Jaidee also finished runner-up here four years ago when he also ranked second for Scrambling, with Mathew Baldwin, who finished 5th, ranking first. In 2013, six of the first seven home ranked inside the top-eight for Scrambling and in 2012, four of the first six home ranked in the top-six.
Thomas Pieters, who finished tied 16th, topped the scrambling stats two years ago and he's the only top scrambler not place in 15 years! GIR is a stat to concentrate on but Scrambling looks the most important.
Fleetwood's Putting Average ranking was only 53rd but it's not unusual to see someone rank poorly for putting and win. Wiesberger's Putting Average three years ago was just 33rd and the three winners between 2011 and 2013 had an average PA ranking of just 25.6.
Is There an Angle In?
Fleetwood won the title on his fifth visit and after four missed cuts but course form still counts for plenty here. Fleetwood also has a bizarre set of form figures in Abu Dhabi that reads MC-MC-19-MC-MC-1-1 so jumping to a conclusion that course form is unimportant here would be a mistake.
Both G-Mac and Jean-Francois Remesy have won the event back-to-back and there was enough evidence in the 2016 renewal alone to highlight how important course form is...
He put up a poor defence last year but Jaidee's Paris figures now read 31-MC-26-15-MC-2-10-1-62, the 2016 runner-up, Francesco Molinari, was occupying that finishing position for the third time, Rory McIlroy finished third in 2016, six years after he'd fished fourth on his previous visit, Cabrera-Bello didn't play last year but he was placed in each of the two previous editions and former winner, Martin Kaymer, finished fifth in 2016.
Sometimes I spot a link that could be merely coincidental, and this is one such correlation but it's too strong not to mention. The three Open de France winners before Fleetwood 12 months ago had all also won the now defunct Ballantine's Championship in Korea...
G-Mac and Jaidee won the tournament in 2008 and 2009 at the Pinx Gof Club on Jeju Island and Wiesberger's success, in 2012, came at Black Mountain but the two venues may well have similarities. Marcus Fraser and Brett Rumford finished first and second at Pinx in 2010, three years before Rumford beat Fraser in a playoff at Black Mountain.
Rumford has a poor record at Paris National but Fraser, was third in 2006 and had Lee Westwood got the better of Martin Kaymer here in the playoff in 2009, we'd have been looking at four players that had won both events. Westwood won at Black Mountain in 2011.
It's a curious correlation but there may be something in it and although it's form that's getting old now, it might also be worth checking out the now defunct Wales Open at Celtic Manor where both G-Mac and Jaidee have won.
Will we see another well-fancied Rolex Series winner?
We've had ten Rolex Series events now and every one of the ten has been won by a top-class player that knew how to win. Olesen, who won the last Rolex Series event, the Italian Open, is the only winner to go off at odds in excess of [100.0] and eight of the ten have been very well-fancied.
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren [22.0]
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood [25.0]
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm [18.0]
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello [65.0]
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton [20.0]
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose [9.2]
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace [18.0]
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm [14.0]
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari [22.0]
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen [130.0]
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This an event that appears to be shifting somewhat. Outsiders used to have a really good record but the winners have been somewhat easier to find of late.
Although he had no course form, Fleetwood was in fine fettle this time last year and he was a well-supported [25.0] chance, Jaidee was a 60/1 chance 12 months earlier, Wiesberger was generally a [38.0] chance three years ago and G-mac was a [16.0] shot in 2014, a year after winning at [34.0] so the last five winners haven't been impossible to find by any means but long shots had a decent enough record before McDowell's first victory and six of the eight winners before 2013 were matched at a triple-figure price before the off.
Tommy was in the van from the get-go 12 months ago. He sat tied for fifth and just three off the leader, Paul Waring, after the opening round and he sat third and just one off the lead after rounds two and three before a final round 66 saw him win by one but he was the seventh player in nine years not to be leading with a round to go.
Jaidee was magnificent in 2016, calmly converting a two-stroke lead into a four-stroke winning margin but this is usually a really hard track to hold on at and he's just the second third round leader or co-leader to convert in nine years now. G-Mac had been tied for the lead after 54 holes when he won the first of his two titles in 2013.
Every winner here has been inside the top-ten through 54 holes but we've seen plenty of strokes made up on a Sunday. We've seen winners come from two, three, four and five adrift and when McDowell defended the title four years ago, he trailed by eight with a round to go!
The finish is tough at Paris National and for the second year in-a-row the 17th and 18th ranked as the two most difficult holes on the course last year. In 2016 they averaged 4.35 (17th) and 4.29 and last year it was 4.32 (17th) and 4.42 so if your fancy is in front with two to play you might want to bank some profit and if you're planning to trade in running on Sunday, anyone already in the house will have a distinct advantage on anyone on the same score with still the last two holes to play. That may seem obvious but the market always favours those still on the course, with optimistic punters imagining birdies, but in reality a par-par finish is a great way to end the round.
Somewhat surprisingly, with the Ryder Cup just a few months away, world number two, Justin Thomas, is the sole representative from Team USA in the field this week.
Thomas understandably heads the market but his lack of prior course experience will hinder him and given the proximity of the Ryder Cup, he'll encounter media distraction aplenty so he's not for me. And neither is the second favourite, Jon Rahm.
Having won the Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship last season and the Open de Espana in April, Spain's world number five, Rahm, has been prolific on the European Tour. In just eight starts, he's claimed three titles, so he has to be respected but he finished only 10th here 12 months ago, and I'm convinced he's better when the examination isn't quite so exacting.
The Spaniard gets riled all to easily and this is a course that can rile the most placid performers. Rahm's wins usual occur when 20-under-par or better is the expected winning score and not when a dozen-under shows the weather wasn't unkind.
It's a shame Tommy Fleetwood went straight to Germany from Shinnecock because had he been rested up and raring to go I'd fancy his chances of defending the title, just like he did in Abu Dhabi in January. It was always a big ask to go from finishing second in a US Open to winning on the European Tour and he wasn't helped last week by the poor draw. I suspect we'll see a different Fleetwood turn up this week and I can see him being in-the-mix again.
Alex Noren missed his first three cuts here but his last two visits have seen him finish eighth and tenth. He arrives in Paris in fair form following top-25 finishes in the Italian Open and the US Open and he makes more appeal than Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who just doesn't win enough. The Spaniard is a plausible play in the place markets given he'd finished eight at the BMW - PGA Championship and fourth in Italy before he fell away in the US Open and given he's finished inside the top-five here in each of the last two years.
I was tempted to play Ian Poulter again this year as I've always felt this was somewhere that suited his game but he was a [50.0] chance 12 months ago and he's half the price this time around. I know he's bagged a win in the States but he was in fair form last year too, having finished runner-up at the Players Championship, so reluctantly I'm leaving him out and playing just two.
I swerved Thorbjorn Olesen last week at around 25/1, on account of his inconsistency. Throughout his career he's had a propensity to perform brilliantly one week and dreadfully the next but if he does turn up in Paris, his chance is blindingly obvious. He sandwiched a missed cut at Shinnecock in-between a win in Italy and a runners-up spot in Germany, where he flew home on Sunday with a sensational 11-under-par 61 to post a lead that for some time looked unassailable.
He would have won last week if it wasn't for a horror hole early on in round three. Incredibly, he gave up five strokes on one hole on Saturday - recording an eight on the par three fourth. I don't know for certain, but I'd be surprised if anyone's ever won having recorded a snowman on a par three before so to finish second he performed a minor miracle.
Thorbjorn was second at Paris National on debut in 2011 and he was third last year. Typically for the Dane, there were three missed cuts and a withdrawal in-between those two placed efforts so when backing him, an acceptance of a possible no-show must be considered, no matter how well he appears to be playing, but if he does hold his form, I thought he was very fairly priced at [30.0] and above.
I was happy to take [32.0] about Olesen and I was more than happy to recycle some of my Matt Wallace winnings back on him at [65.0]. He's also my each=way pick for the second week running.
Thorbjorn Olesen @ [30.0]
Matt Wallace @ [65.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter