A good quality field, headed by Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell has assembled in France this week for this years renewal of the Alstom Open De France at Le Golf National. This well established track has played host to this big money event since 1991, with the exception of 1999 and 2001, and is undoubtedly one of the best venues on the Tour schedule. The 7,331yd Par 71 stadium course, which will play host to the 2018 Ryder Cup, is a terrific test of golf, especially the final four holes, where water features heavily on 15, 16 and in particular the extremely difficult 470 yard Par 4 18th hole. Water lurks all the way down the left from the tee, and a long second shot to a green surrounded by water will certainly test the bottle of any potential winner.
The course is exposed, quite undulating in parts, with firm greens, and places great emphasis on accuracy, especially from the tee. Previous winners here indicate this is very much a course for fairways and greens merchants, rather than the power hitters. The course is sure to play fast and firm with baking hot temperatures in the high 30s forecast for the build up, and the four days of the tournament.
My main fancy this week is the ultra consistent Francesco Molinari, who ticks all the right boxes in the type of player who should do well at this type of test. The demanding track is tailor made for his laser straight driving, and pinpoint iron play, and he certainly comes here in decent form with solid recent performances on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. He has good course form around here, with runner up spots in both 2010 and 2012, so with the provisio his sometimes fragile putting stroke holds up on these slick surfaces, he has to go well again this week. He also has the added incentive of chasing one of the three possible qualifying spots that are available here for the forthcoming Open Championship, so plenty of motivation for the Italian.
Despite a rather lacklustre display in Germany last week, I am going to again include Soren Kjeldsen in my staking plan this week. Possibly the two week break he had prior to the BMW Open last week, worked against him after the euphoria of his thrilling win in Ireland, and his runner up finish in Sweden, but at least he finished the week on a positive note with a solid final round of 69. The Dane is a regular at this venue, and boasts a really consistent record at this top notch layout, with 3 top 10 finishes since 2008, and plenty of other decent performances. The expected fiery nature of the course this week should put great emphasis on strategy and course management, which are the main strengths of his game, so with confidence levels still high, another prominent showing is anticipated in France.
The final selection this week goes to the American Brendan Steele, who has posted Tied 7th finishes in his previous two visits here in 2011 and 2012. The Californian should certainly be at home in these baking hot temperatures, and brings with him some pretty solid patches of form from the PGA Tour this season. He finished Tied 2nd in the Humana Challenge earlier in the year, but more recently he Tied 8th in the Valero Texas Open, and Tied 9th in the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow. He had a nice prep last week in the Travelers Championship at River Highlands, where he finished a highly respectable Tied 25th place, so expect a bold show from this former PGA Tour winner.
Of the other notables, previous winners of this event Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer both arrive here badly out of form, and are hard to fancy, despite both having great records here. Of the home contingent, the quirky Victor Dubuisson showed a little more promise last week, but his gung-ho approach might not be best suited to this tough layout, and the same applies to his compatriot Alexander Levy, who is at least in decent form.