SACRE bleu! Whatever has happened to the Open de France? For so many years one of the great tournaments on the European Tour schedule, it gained in stature when the host course, Le Golf National, became the Ryder Cup venue, the match was a thrilling spectacle and yet, just over 12 months on, the championship lacks a sponsor, has a reduced prize fund, is no longer prime time and the field is duly decimated. But let’s look on the bright side – still plenty of punting opportunities abound.
The top of the market is a tricky one. Alex Noren leads the way which makes sense as the defending champion who has finished top ten here in his last three starts, but he also lacks a top ten anywhere in the world in 2019. Thomas Pieters has been in-contention in his last three Thursdays at the course, but has gone backwards thereafter. Erik Van Rooyen is to be admired, but he has a lot of golf under his belt and struggled on course debut. His price last week was more attractive than this.
Which leads us to Joost Luiten and there’s no avoiding that doubts also surround him. He’s made the weekend in Paris six times out of seven, but has a best of tied ninth. He’s also made his last seven cuts, but with a best of tied tenth. The key is that Luiten, a six-time winner on the European Tour, is showing signs of form, repeatedly getting off to decent starts in recent weeks. He’s also hungry because don’t discount the venue inspiring him. It hurt that injury robbed him of a shot at playing the Ryder Cup and being reminded of that might provide an edge.
In recent years Southgate has gained the healthy knack of peaking at least once per season when the prize fund is large and solo second in the Dunhill Links two weeks ago not only secured his playing rights for next year, but probably booked him a spot in the DP World Tour Championship too. With that freedom he can now attack a course he not only admits to liking, but which he has proved as much in finishing T11th in 2016 and fifth last year, when he scooted home with a lap of 65.
That runners-up spot in Scotland was no one-off this season. In fact it was a fifth top ten and a third in six weeks. Moreover he ended rounds one and two at the KLM Open in second, and then was in that position through the three closing laps in and around St Andrews. The evidence of the first 13 holes of his final round was that he is getting more mature in his response to being in contention and he took the near-miss in decent style too. The missed cut first time out from that was understandable, but so, too, might be a bounce back in Paris.
Back in mid-2016 the Korean player was flying high on the European Tour. He’d spent the early weeks of the summer winning back-to-back in Morocco and Mauritius, and when he arrived in Paris he took to the test in style, carding rounds of 71-66-70 to share the halfway lead and then head into the final day in second. A Sunday 78 saw him topple outside the top 20, but he was unbowed, nearly winning the Nedbank Challenge in November and then claiming the Qatar Masters in the following January.
He looked set for a bright future, however midway through last season he decided his swing needed a tweak and it set him back. Indeed, he’s spent most of this season missing the cut. But he was tied fifth in the Dunhill Links Championship and tenth last week in the Italian Open, efforts which have got him up to 120th in the Race to Dubai and he needs more because his exemption runs out next week. Still only 24-years-old Wang is in-form, in need and has intriguingly sneaky course form.