The Open de France on the European Tour this week is being played on the course that will host the Ryder Cup next year. A number of French players are in contention to play for Europe against the United States but this week players from Italy and Spain are at the head of the betting. Francesco Molinari more than Jon Rahm has the attributes to win the national championship of France.
The countdown has now begun for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in three weeks and players on the US PGA Tour are gearing up for their annual trip to the “British”. The Quickens Loans National has attracted a decent field headlined by Rickie Fowler but Marc Leishman is the man to back as the Aussie is good enough to win at this level and is suited to the host course.
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The winner of the British Open is announced as the “Champion Golfer of the Year”. The event is seen as the Olympics of men’s golf and all the greats have won the title at least once. The Open is always played on a links course, generally in Scotland and on the north-west coast of England but every now and again Sandwich in Kent has a turn but the spiritual homes of the game are seaside courses on both coasts in Scotland and Southport, Lytham and Hoylake.
There is certain madness about going to watch golf live. You hardly ever see a ball and you could be miles away from the action. St Andrews is the worst viewing course on the rota due to the layout but Birkdale is superb for watching golf because the dunes provide a natural amphitheatre. On some holes there is no need for stands as the natural features are just as good and the spectating is the best in the world.
One of the factors in choosing a Ryder Cup venue is the infrastructure and viewing. At an Open there are over 50 pairings but in foursomes and four balls in the Ryder Cup there are only four matches. Crowds are concentrated around a few holes at any one time so the demands of the event are different to a regular tournament. This week’s venue and Ryder Cup host course is Le Golf National in Paris which has been designed with matchplay golf in mind.
The course puts a premium on accuracy over distance. The key skills for good scoring are driving accuracy, hitting greens in regulation and GIR putting. The bigger hitters do not have an advantage on a course at about 7,300 yards in length. Course management will be key this week and in the Ryder Cup next year. Molinari is the standout player in this context and he can win the French Open for the first time. The event has been played at Le Golf National since 1991 except in 1999 and 2001.
On the US PGA Tour players are experiencing a return to an old venue. TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm hosted an event from 1987 to 2004 and again in 2006. The track was overhauled to improve drainage and cultivate better turf. The result is a much tougher test this week for the field of 120 players. The headline payer is Fowler but his price looks too short and at the relative odds Leishman is preferred. Patrick Reed is another leading contender on the back of six top 25s in seven outings.
Leishman was good enough to contest the playoff for the Open at St Andrews won by Zach Johnson in 2015 which meant his wife had a few bob to spend (On a new kitchen according to Peter Alliss)! Leishman was positive during the US Open but didn’t play well over the weekend. He played four rounds under 70 last week and finished tied 17th. That was Leishman’s third top 20 in six weeks and his skills profile makes him a good fit for TPC Potomac where he can win.
The Open Championship is the most prestigious event in the sport. Players would no doubt swap 100 regular tournaments in return for having their name inscribed on the Claret Jug. Molinari and Leishman will probably never win a major but that should not put you off backing them this week.
Back next Thursday.