As the Open Championship draws near, the mainland European Tour swing is in full flight. Fields are strengthening for some lucrative events and big names are getting settled and preparing for the seasons third major. Once again, those who have not yet qualified can still do so, with three spots available for the leading players in the top 10 not already exempt.
If Open Championship prep isn't reason enough, how about the fact that Le Golf National is the venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, and the bulk of what will surely be the European team in a few years time tee it up in France this week. American Ryder Cup hopeful Kevin Stadler - 67.00 - ventures over for a taste and he has the game to fit the Le Golf National test.
Leading the market off the back of some scintillating form is 2009 Open De France winner Martin Kaymer at 9.00. Tucked in behind the German is defending champion Graeme McDowell at 13.00 who put in a flawless performance in 2013, and 'G-mac' alerted us to the fact that his game is shaping up quite nicely ahead of his defence. Victor Dubuisson - who will feature in this year's Ryder Cup - is the leading contender for the home contingent at 26.00.
The course - Le Golf National
An all-round test of golf circa 7,330 yards to a par of 71, Le Golf National can break you before your round even gets going. If you manage to avoid the aqua on number 1, the infamous par 3 2nd over water is one of the toughest holes the pros will face all year. Make your score before the home stretch on this exposed tight and tricky layout as more water trouble lurks at every corner on the dash for home.
Ball striking is the premium on a track lined by penal rough, and stray too far from the tee and find yourself in the wispy stuff or poking around in a bush. Break out the bucket and spade because if you miss the greens in the wrong area you'll be building sand castles in some deep pot bunkers. Scrambling around the slick green surfaces will be key to making a score this week. Don't expect the winning number to be too low around here, with the last three winners all failing to reach double digits under par.
Three from the pack
Rafa Cabrera Bello ranks 5th in GIR% and is currently one of the best total drivers and tee to green players in the game. A ball striking masterclass in Germany last week - where RCB astonishingly hit over 90% of greens in reg - secured him a playoff berth to follow up a decent showing and top 30 in Ireland. Given the importance of keeping it in play at Le Golf National it's impossible for me to leave the Spaniard out at 34.00 or 7.50 the place.
2013 first round Open De France leader Anders Hansen 46.00 or 10.00 loves Le Golf National and hasn't failed to show up here since forever and a day. Add a handful of top 10s including a couple of title assaults to the lowest opener feat last year, and a pattern begins to emerge. I much prefer to back Hansen on tougher courses and indeed he's a two-time winner at Wentworth which gives you an idea of why. Anders is a tee-to-green ball striking specialist who also excels with the flat stick. Only a frustrating 2nd round prevented the Dane challenging in Germany last week and I expect him to be a factor here.
Another man that caught the eye in Germany was Argentine Emilliano Grillo, who can be backed at 51.00 or 11.00. An eye catching 2nd in GIR% in 2014, the 21 year old also ranks 25th in driving accuracy with an average distance reading 293 yards. His putter is obviously hot right now too as at the BMW International, Grillo seemed to be getting up and down from everywhere and indeed he was 34th in putts per GIR and 100% from the sand. Emilliano finished T8 in Germany and also has some course experience at Le Golf National, carding a top 25 in 2012.
Any French fans out there looking for a bet on one of the home contingent, Gregory Havret may be your man. Stats of 11th in driving accuracy, 80% of greens hit and 2nd in putts per GIR, along with a progressive form line of 64-49-2 tell a story that all departments of Gregory's game are finally working again and he's a decent price at 71.00 or 15.00 to place.
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