OPEN DE FRANCE
1.5pts each-way Robert MacIntyre @ 18/1
1pt each-way Thomas Pieters @ 14/1
1pt each-way Victor Perez @ 18/1
1pt each-way Antoine Rozner @ 28/1
0.5pt each-way Tom Lewis @ 80/1
0.5pt each-way Oliver Bekker @ 50/1
The DP World Tour will be saying a little prayer this weekend hoping that LIV rebel and pre-tournament favourite Patrick Reed doesn’t win the French Open – or to give it the correct title, the Cazoo Open de France – at Le Golf National.
Although the controversial American has been a great supporter of European golf for a number of years – indeed he has just finished fifth in its flagship tournament at Wentworth – a victory by him or any defector to the Saudi-backed circus which is tearing the world of golf apart would be an embarrassment.
Unlike the PGA Tour which has flat-banned the renegades from all their weekly tournaments, Europe’s attempt at doing something similar has been stalled by legal appeals and they have had to sit and suffer while the likes of Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia have their cake and eat it.
So Reed has picked up his cheque from finishing 13th in the LIV Chicago tournament on Sunday, won by Cameron Smith, to chase slimmer rewards at the famed 2018 Ryder Cup course on the outskirts of Paris.
He had a miserable time there in the fourballs, losing twice with Tiger Woods as his partner, but defeating Tyrrell Hatton in the singles, one of only four US winners that Sunday as Europe romped home by seven.
This will be his first individual visit to Le National, the magnificent stadium course which has hosted the national Open since 1991 for all bar two years and this thick-skinned Texan would love to be the most unpopular golfer in Paris on Sunday.
But I’m not sure he deserves to be favourite even in a field lacking Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland from last week. Pat is definitely regressing from the man who won the 2018 Masters and failed to muster even a top 30 in the four Majors.
The value of his Wentworth fifth is dubious as it was all down to that closing 63. His earlier golf that wet week was ordinary and his LIV form (3-5-33-13) is similarly patchy, usually relying on a strong finish when he’s out of contention and not under pressure.
As part of the winning all-American Four Aces squad which has won all four LIV outings in the States – ‘Captain America’ has always loved team golf – he’s $3m richer anyway without worrying about individual earnings and I just wonder about his nerve under pressure these days.
The 7248-yard par 71 is no pushover, has a daunting and potentially damp finish and will test him to the very end. The last four winning scores – the tournament was last staged in 2019 – have been only 12, 7, 12 and 11 under and Reed won’t be getting away with the bad drives to which he is prone.
There’s no such doubts about Bob MacIntyre’s driving or his nerve after both held firm in a pulsating finish in Rome on Sunday when he played the 72nd hole and the first in extra-time immaculately to see off Fitzpatrick after the US Open champion and McIlroy had exhibited frailties of their own, Rory finding water with an errant drive on the 16th and Matt posting an untimely bogey at the short 17th after a woeful tee shot.
I know winning two on the bounce is rare but MacIntyre could buck the trend as the pressure of winning a first Ryder Cup spot is now surely off. Beating McIlroy and Fitzpatrick at Marco Simone, next year’s Cup venue, with Ryder captain Luke Donald there and drinking it all in… it doesn’t get much better than that.
And coming almost two years after his lone previous victory in a very minor event in Cyprus lifts another millstone from Bobby Mac’s neck as it has been far from plain sailing for the 2020 Rookie of the Year since then, things not having gone according to plan in America and being “all over the place” with his game in the summer.
This will be his French debut but arriving with confidence at an all-time high the Scot from Oban could shine again as could Victor Perez who missed the five-footer that would have taken him into the playoff on Sunday.
The Dundee-based Frenchman had holed out magnificently until then, was 16th on his last Parisian visit, has a victory in Holland to his name already this year and provided he has enough adrenaline left to cast aside his Sunday disappointment has every chance of becoming the first home-bred winner since Thomas Levet 11 years ago.
Another Frenchman, swarthy Antoine Rozner, could also challenge on home turf. His game has recently picked up significantly from a shaky start with 13th in Prague, fourth at Crans and 16th in Rome. This two-time winner is trending the right way.
Another Ryder Cup contender Thomas Pieters must also enter the conversation. The powerful Belgian is also a 2022 winner and has a decent-enough French Open record of 26-31-13-16-29 (plus one DQ). Following that early success in Abu Dhabi, he has gone close in Munich and remains in decent form after a top-ten in Prague and a fair Wentworth effort.
I give each-way shouts to Englishmen Tom Lewis and Andy Sullivan. Lewis has been prominent on three of his last four starts (12th Denmark, 13th Prague, 16th Italy), a huge improvement on a desperate Korn Ferry Tour campaign, and knows how to win.
Chirpy Sullivan not only has some fair course form (4th 2016, 13th 2017, 21st 2018) but is starting to produce some nice golf. (64 on day one at Wentworth. The word of sponsors Cazoo in the tournament title seems to bring the best out of him – two of his three top-tens this year have come in their events.
Giant Pole Adrian Meronk would have been on the list but blotted his copybook by missing the cut in Italy when paired with captain Donald and that failure could still be gnawing away at him as he has serious Ryder Cup pretensions.
Laurie Canter (8th) was in good LIV form in Chicago but never wins and steady Ollie Bekker, sixth on his LIV debut at St. Albans but subsequently one of 19 players released as being surplus to requirements as bigger names joined the breakaway 48, caught the eye in Italy when ninth last week, his ninth top ten of the year if you count St Albans, and this multiple Sunshine Tour winner could bag his first in Europe.
3pts win Sungjae Im Internationals top scorer @ 11/2
1pt each-way Patrick Cantlay USA top scorer @ 13/2
1pt win Max Homa top wildcard @ 4/1
0.5pts each-way Cameron Young top rookie @ 10/1
The Presidents Cup has always been the poor relation of the Ryder Cup but this 14th edition of the biennial match between the USA and the Internationals in North Carolina means less than it ever has done thanks to the chaos the predatory LIV golf circus has created in the game.
The Internationals – another name for the Rest of the World without Europe – were always going to be big underdogs having lost 11 out of 13 (one dead-heat) but when their main man, Open champion Cammie Smith, and the exciting Chilean star Joaquin Niemann took the life-changing move to LIV a few weeks ago, it so undermined their challenge that it’s impossible to make a case for them.
Having earlier lost Abe Ancer, Marc Leishman and the South African trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace (within a month the latter pair had won the first two LIV tournaments and $4m apiece), captain Trevor Immelman was already struggling. And Smith’s victory in Chicago at the weekend on his second LIV outing was the last straw.
It’s such a shame as they gave the USA quite a fright in Melbourne last time, leading by 10-8 going into the singles before going down 16-14, their eighth straight loss, but the PGA Tour ban on the defectors makes a repeat of the 19-11 result in the last home game in 2017 a far more likely outcome.
Indeed, it could be even worse. Have a look at Fitzdares’ prices about a victory margin of nine, ten and 11 points to level stakes.
The loss of Dustin Johnson to LIV and the absence of the unfit Will Zalatoris mean the Americans, led by canny Davis Love, are not quite at full strength but they have so many stars to choose from that ten of their 12 are higher in the world rankings than the top-rated International Hideki Matsuyama and it is hard to forget the record-breaking 19-9 battering they inflicted on Europe at Whistling Straits last year.
This looks an even easier task – there’s nobody of the calibre of Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm facing them – and as the Americans love winning, they will be licking their lips at the prospect of another landslide. They are not in the habit of taking it easy when they have their opponents in a half-Nelson.
It’s such a pity that this rearranged renewal at Quail Hollow could not be played on the original 2021 date long before the LIV invasion teed off. Now the weakened Internationals are left with a mountain higher than Everest to climb and although David once slew Goliath and Leicester City won the Premiership, it’s 6/1 against anything like that happening in Charlotte this weekend.
For those looking for a chink in the American armour, don’t bother. Even last-man-in Kevin Kisner is a major asset in this form of golf as a past Dell Match Play champion and current-year finalist. He’s not a man anyone will relish facing in what looks a foolproof side Love is leading into battle on Thursday.
Yes, unlike the Ryder Cup, this is a four-day affair and with 30 points at stake rather than 28. Action is sparse over the first two days as there are just five foursomes on the opening day and five fourballs on Friday but Saturday is busy-busy with four foursomes in the morning and four fourballs in the afternoon.
How relevant some of Sunday’s 12 singles are depends on which of the Internationals can rise to the occasion in the pairs in a format which gives Immelman the chance to shield his weaker players as four are benched on the first two days and two can be omitted in each Saturday session.
On current form Mito Pereira (missed four cuts in a row since blowing the PGA Championship), Si Woo Kim (no top-ten this year), Sebastian Munoz (last top-ten in May), Cam Davis (missed Fortinet cut) and Christiaan Bezuidenhout (like Pereira has never won in the States) may need plenty of shielding.
Even though Matsuyama is their highest-ranked player, Sungjae Im’s great end-of-season run, second places at 3M, Wyndham and Tour Championship, plus top-15s at St Jude and BMW, makes him Immelman’s main hope in my book.
As this golfaholic did well in Melbourne in the last Presidents Cup, scoring three points, and is never happier than on the golf course, expect him to play more than the injury-prone Matsuyama and be top scorer at 11/2 provided he gets a good partner.
Hopefully it will be the smart new kid on the block, 20-year-old fellow South Korean Joohyung Kim, better known as Tom, whose iron play and hot putter have produced some dazzling results and a sensational victory in Greensboro almost as soon as we got to know him.
Much will be expected of Adam Scott as the senior member of the team in his tenth Presidents Cup but with a W4-L9-H4 record in fourballs the omens are not that bright in that discipline although two recent fifth places suggest this sublime driver is far less fallible with the flat stick these days.
Canadian duo Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith look a likely pairing but hardly intimidating to an American team with no obvious weak link. No prizes for guessing the home side’s key partnership – great mates Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, the silky-smooth easy winners of the Zurich pairs event in New Orleans.
They aren’t too shabby at singles either and at 13/2 could end of as joint top points scorers for the USA. The trouble with betting on that market is that there are one or two others likely to go unbeaten so the win dividend could be diluted.
Sunday’s repeat Fortinet champion Max Homa, incredibly lucky though he was to land us a 14/1 winning weekend when poor Danny Willett triple-putted from 43 inches at the last, is making his debut for his country but is likely to get plenty of work and could be the answer to the Top Wildcard market. As a Quail Hollow winner (2019 Wells Fargo) and a triple winner in the last 12 months, everyone will be keen to partner him.
And while world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler looks nailed on to be Top Rookie, Cameron Young, the longest, straightest hitter on either team at 319 yards, will be in demand for the fourballs on a par 71 measuring 7517 yards and appeals as the each-way alternative on the same market.
Expect another course winner in Justin Thomas, whose first Major victory came In the 20i7 PGA, to team with his chum Jordan Spieth in another lethal partnership and score well.
Top scorer and winning margin, plus the individual daily matches – the opening foursomes match-ups will be announced on Wednesday – will be the main betting options unless you fancy piling your savings on the USA at 1/7.
The longtime home of the Wells Fargo is not quite the course we’re used to as it has been re-routed to ensure that the infamous Green Mile, the ultra-tough 16th, 17th and 18th, gets plenty of use.
That stretch, named after the Stephen King novel – Green Mile is the colloquial name for the condemned prisoner’s final walk to the electric chair – becomes 13, 14, 15, hopefully making fuller use of those crucial holes (unless it’s a 7 & 6 annihilation) rather than being wasted because of early finishes. Unless Scheffler and the other US stars get too cocky, underrate the opposition or take pity, there are surely going to be a good few of those.
Do wait until you have all available information before venturing into any top-scorer market. There is little point in playing until we see Thursday’s line-up. You are giving the bookies a one-up start if you bet now and your fancy sits out day one. Both captains are likely to throw their best players into the first series to get an early lead, so keep an eye on who is going out with whom in the practice rounds.
One tiny word of hope for the underdogs: the world rankings which make the USA a shoo-in are predominantly based on 72-hole strokeplay form.
This is 18-hole matchplay, eyeball-to-eyeball golf, playing the man before the course. There are bound to be upsets. Remember minnow Phillip Price mashing mighty Phil Mickelson at The Belfry in 2002? It turned defeat into Ryder Cup victory for Europe. Who will step up to the plate for Immo?
USA: Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Sam Burns, Tony Finau, Max Homa, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner
Internationals: Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, Joohyung Kim, Adam Scott, Corey Conners, Cam Davis, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira, Taylor Pendrith, KH Lee
Weather: hot and humid on day one (34C) with possible thunderstorms. Sunny and warm (24-28C) for the weekend
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