After two winners in two weeks, golf expert Ben Coley is backing Thorbjorn Olesen to capture the Cazoo Open de France at Le Golf National.
Golf betting tips: Cazoo Open de France
2pts e.w. Yannik Paul at 33/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1.5pts e.w. Thorbjorn Olesen at 40/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Adrian Otaegui at 45/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Nathan Kimsey at 70/1 Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Richie Ramsay at 75/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Matthew Southgate at 75/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
As someone who grew up idolising Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, familiarising myself with every fairway and green at Wentworth, watching the Open from dawn to dusk and waiting impatiently for the next Ryder Cup to come around, it’s been extremely satisfying to watch golf in Europe take centre stage throughout the past few weeks.
It’s naive to even think it, but this is a good template for how the men’s professional game should operate. The PGA Tour should be where everyone wants to play but that doesn’t mean they should have to play there every time. There is room to roam; to begin autumn in Europe, to end the year in Australia. And while they are for now few in number, there are world-class players who want to do that.
A handful of them cross the Channel for the Cazoo Open de France, though of course the biggest event this week takes place in Spain. Ludvig Aberg is preparing for the Ryder Cup by spectating at the Solheim Cup and most of my (limited, fist-bump to the dads out there) viewing time will be spent watching Europe hopefully begin a golden fortnight, the ideal end to a wonderful month.
Nevertheless, these team competitions aren’t quite so good for betting whereas the Open de France is another open, competitive heat, the market headed by a handful of Wentworth contenders plus the man who emerged as champion, Ryan Fox, after another fine advert for everyone’s favourite golf tour.
Tom Kim faded a little on Sunday but it was a good return to action and he’s installed as favourite. Le Golf National, a positional course which frustrated the hell out of several members of Team USA in the Ryder Cup five years ago, sets up nicely for a player with star power if not driving power and he has all the tools to be adding this title to his collection.
Min Woo Lee is built differently – what a Presidents Cup pairing these two could make, by the way – and on the face of it wouldn’t be as suited to the task at hand, given that driver is not going to be an option for him all that often. Still, encouragement can be drawn from the fact that he’s contended at somewhere as suffocating as Valderrama, and the fact he was greenside to welcome home Fox on Sunday night.
Kim and Lee are a window into this week’s big conundrum: just how a course we know really well is set to play. When the DP World Tour moved the event to October in 2019, big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts won. Three years later, Guido Migliozzi marked the return of the event with the shot of the year to beat Rasmus Hojgaard, with powerhouses Thomas Pieters and Paul Barjon helping pad out the top five.
This represents a marked contrast from when drier conditions made for an often fiery test in mid-summer, but after the latest European heatwave not so long ago, and with very little rain around in Paris of late, I wonder if we might get Le Golf National playing somewhat like it used to. That scenario would lead me to Kim over Lee, and it colours this week’s selections at bigger prices.
Thunderbear to strike
First up is THORBJORN OLESEN, who returns to the scene of his Ryder Cup appearance in 2018, one which started badly but ended spectacularly as the Dane thrashed Jordan Spieth in the singles.
With his career now firmly back on track following two wins in the past 15 months, Olesen might’ve expected to be in the running for a wildcard pick this year but didn’t quite do enough, his golden spring followed by a quiet summer despite plenty of good signs.
Since returning following a missed cut at the Open, surely his final chance to turn Luke Donald’s head, I’ve felt that Olesen has been a big eye-catcher. He’s made all four cuts, defying slow starts each time to climb the leaderboard, and until last week his iron play in particular had been electric.
Ranking 66th in strokes-gained approach at Wentworth was a big backwards step on the face of it, but Olesen simply hates the West Course. I dare say he wouldn’t admit it, and it’s possible he still very much enjoys playing in such a fantastic event, but he’s done so a dozen times now without ever being in the mix.
In fact, 33rd last week, improving over the final two rounds, was arguably his pound-for-pound best effort at the course, 27th in 2020 coming in a slightly weaker field. Either way it stacks up very well given that he’s missed eight of 12 cuts, and his second-round 69 was just the second time in more than 30 rounds that he’s cracked 70.
All signs then point towards his game being in a good place and while his record here at Le Golf National is patchy, it does include second on debut, third in 2017, and 20th on his return last year, the first time he’d visited the course since that closing win at the Ryder Cup.
What’s particularly notable about that performance, which on the face of it is only solid, is that Olesen ranked first in strokes-gained tee-to-green only to suffer a shocker with the putter. That club is typically a strength, as it was in last week’s BMW PGA Championship, and this looks a real opportunity to contend and perhaps even win again.
Olesen’s debut second came behind Thomas Levet but while French golf has come a long way since, unearthing a genuine star has been difficult. Victor Perez leads the way currently ahead of Antoine Rozner, both of them in the field, but for reasons unclear at the time of writing Romain Langasque has withdrawn to weaken the home challenge.
French-speaking Colsaerts was of course a popular winner from next door in Belgium but since Levet’s triumph only Victor Dubuisson has ended any round at the top of the leaderboard and while both Rozner and Perez made some appeal, if we do see the tricolore on top perhaps it’ll be Adrien Saddier, one to watch in markets like first-round leader.
The trouble with that is Thursday’s forecast is not good and I’ll therefore stick to trying to find the champion, with YANNIK PAUL one of those capable of shaking up the favourites for all that he too has been doing his best work on day one of late.
Paul certainly was in the Ryder Cup running and made a gallant bid to qualify, featuring early on in Prague and then at Crans, where he finished 10th and 20th when he needed more. No wonder he dipped a little over the following fortnight, both he and Adrian Meronk unable to produce a defiant display following their respective disappointments.
Paul though has continued to pound greens, ranking 15th, eighth, second and seventh across his four post-Open starts, and he’s gaining strokes both off the tee and with those approaches. The simple difference between two good efforts and two mediocre ones was his short-game, which like most comes and goes.
Hitting quality approaches is really the key to this course, one that can’t be overpowered even when it does play soft. Avoiding water that guards holes like the first, second, 16th and 18th and generally limiting mistakes is the formula, although it must be said that hitting par-five greens in two is hard and his chipping will need to step up in order to collect those cheap birdies.
In fairness to Paul his season-long short-game stats are very good and as the second-ranked iron player in the field, this looks just as good a course fit as last year’s debut eighth suggests it should be.
The worry might be that he’s heading out for a fifth week in succession and in general that’s a concern for some of the DP World Tour regulars, especially as most of the market leaders are much fresher. However, Paul’s Mallorca win was in his sixth consecutive start and three runner-up finishes this year also came towards the end of a busy run.
He’s currently the player occupying the final spot on the list of players who will earn PGA Tour membership via the Race to Dubai and having been in a similar position all summer on the Ryder Cup points list, perhaps he can put that experience to use.
Accuracy key around LGN
Alex Bjork heads that strokes-gained approach table and his chance is obvious, the Swede having played well on every visit to Paris. Another Ryder Cup hopeful who gave it a really good go, particularly when second for us in Switzerland, he bounced back from a missed cut at the K Club with a decent effort at Wentworth and is respected.
However I prefer the man who ranks fourth, ADRIAN OTAEGUI, whose record at the course is similar to that of Bjork.
Although it took Otaegui a little while to figure this place out, he’s gone 7-12-MC-13 over his last four visits, leading the field in fairways and ranking third in greens last year. It’s an ideal course for the DP World Tour leader in fairways, who showed what he’s all about with a runaway win at Valderrama last year.
Since then, the one thing preventing Otaegui from also featuring in the Ryder Cup conversation has been his putter. Once one of the more reliable clubs in his bag, he’s become very shaky over short ones in particular and I have to confess that remains a concern, having ranked 66th, 71st and 85th in putting from Prague to Ireland.
More of that and he won’t be winning this, but a previous fourth at Galgorm Castle, when he putted to a decent standard, tells you plenty. Otaegui is going to be a massive runner at this sort of level whenever a good putting week does come along and, crucially, there were good signs at Wentworth where he beat the field average.
Second place in the KLM Open back in May came after he’d shown putting improvement in the PGA Championship and we know he has it in him, having leaned on his putter during that Valderrama romp little under a year ago. This is similar challenge albeit on a longer, more exposed course, where conditions should suit one of the straightest shooters on the circuit.
That comment also applies to NATHAN KIMSEY, who separates Otaegui and Bjork in the driving accuracy standings for the season, with several past Le Golf National contenders not far behind.
Kimsey has had the best summer of his career, losing a play-off to Vincent Norrman in the Barbasol and returning home to play well most weeks, including at Wentworth where he was rewarded by playing with Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton on Sunday.
I’m not surprised he struggled a little in that scenario but as the dust settles he’ll surely draw plenty of encouragement from how he performed in the BMW PGA Championship, which sets him up perfectly for a course that should suit him down to the ground.
Kimsey has played here once before, finishing 38th during his rookie season in 2017. It was one of his best performances all year despite a poor weekend, Kimsey having sat second after an opening 66 and then fifth at halfway.
His other encouraging displays during a generally poor campaign also came on courses where you might expect one so accurate to thrive, most notably in India, but the form line I really like is his victory in the Vaudreuil Golf Challenge last summer, which paved the way for his return to this level.
Former Open de France winner Marcel Siem had taken that title in 2021 and Bjork is also on the roll-of-honour, along with fellow Le Golf National contenders Darren Fichardt, Andrew Johnston and the aforementioned Fox. Aside from the latter, all are players who pride themselves on accuracy and so is Aaron Rai, another former champion there who tells you what that test is all about.
Kimsey’s win at that course underlines why he’s so well suited to this one and he arrives on the back of that top-30 at Wentworth, where his approach play was outstanding and his usually reliable short-game let him down for once. It’s an ideal platform providing he’s got more left in the tank, which he should have.
All streets lead to Dubai for Ramsay
We are now at the time of year when the rank-and-file have all sorts of things to start worrying about or focusing on, with just five more full-field events to go for the season. Those 10 PGA Tour cards are the golden ticket, but there’s also the DP World Tour Championship cut-off, and the usual scramble for full status.
Fabrizio Zanotti is the final man in when it comes to cards for 2024 as things stand and the veteran Paraguayan has a good record here, making seven cuts in succession. Anyone who does that is seriously comfortable at a course which makes others feel anything but, yet his persistent putting woes are difficult to overlook.
That aspect of the game hasn’t always been kind to RICHIE RAMSAY but he’s making plenty at the moment and might be able to capitalise.
Ramsay is just one good week away from a return to Dubai at the end of the year and you sense he knows it, having been frustrated not to build on a fast start last week and generally displeased with how three post-Open starts have gone.
The Scot is feeling better about things however and wrote that his ‘game is trending’ despite a sloppy finish at Wentworth. Certainly he has the 18th hole to blame for not finishing higher than 28th, having played it in two-over. He’d been eight-under, one off the lead, when finishing 6-7 on Friday so it was a what-might-have-been week.
Still, there are lots of positives in his game at the moment and he’s a bit fresher than most having played just three times since the Open, quickly slipping back into his fairways-first game and taking a big step forward with his approach work at Wentworth.
There’s still some improvement needed but Ramsay once listed Le Golf National as one of his three favourite courses on the circuit, that before declaring in 2019 that the course had become more difficult for him in soft, autumn conditions.
“But yeah, it’s a joy to play a golf course like this, because it just tests like the whole part of your game and mentally, obviously there’s a lot of water out there, so you have to be very committed to your shots,” he said, and I suspect Le Golf National will play much more suitably from this earlier slot and following a dry summer.
Fifth that year as he had been when contending in 2011, a peak-form Ramsay has what it takes to go really close and having been denied the chance to defend at Hillside, he might see this as one of his best opportunities this side of the season finale.
Southgate to bring it home?
Kristian Krogh Johannessen was first reserve last week and doubtless really disappointed not to get another crack at Wentworth, where he’d played so well a year earlier. The Norwegian is a talent and he drives the ball straight, so on the back of a top-20 finish at the K Club did make some appeal at as big as 300/1.
However, I’ll finish off by siding with MATTHEW SOUTHGATE, who withdrew last week when set to miss the cut, not wishing to come back on Saturday to complete that formality.
Although his performance was disappointing, the overall balance of his form this year merits shorter prices and I can’t help but feel he’s been easy to back on the assumption that a withdrawal must mean something physical, which in this instance isn’t the case.
Perhaps it’s more the way he played but prior to it Southgate had been 23rd in Ireland, the same position he filled at the Open, while ninth at Galgorm Castle and 10th in Denmark add to what’s been a really solid year.
In terms of long-game he’s more than capable of competing with anyone here, as a well above-average driver who is longer and straighter than most. His approach play has been consistently excellent, ranking ninth for the season, and that all adds up to a top-20 ranking in strokes-gained ball-striking.
So precise is his iron play that he gets up and down a lot, ranking 22nd in scrambling despite chipping never having been his favourite part of the game, and there have been enough good signs with his putting lately. A little like Otaegui, if he putts well he’s not likely to be far away.
The course is also a good one for him. Southgate came closest at Green Eagle, an unrelenting test of precision that is similar to Le Golf National, and he’s been 11th and fifth here in the past. Both performances were powered by that trademark accuracy and based on the last few months, rather than the last few days, he’s in the right sort of place to contend.
Southgate is preferred to Callum Shinkwin, a serious talent and now proven winner who was back to form last week, but whose driver might not be such a weapon in Paris. Whatever Thursday’s forecast brings, a generally bright and sunny week otherwise ought to ensure accuracy remains key to this very particular course.
Posted at 1800 BST on 18/09/23
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