Open de France betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Golf
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia

Golf expert Ben Coley fancies Sergio Garcia to build on last week's return to form and contend for the HNA Open de France in Paris.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Sergio Garcia at 22/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Ian Poulter at 25/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Ross Fisher at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Aaron Rai at 90/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

  • For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, click here

Justin Thomas is on a scouting mission to Le Golf National ahead of his Ryder Cup debut in September, which will be played at the popular European Tour stop which has served as home to the HNA Open de France since the beginning of the 1990s.

The world number two hasn't featured in a stock European Tour event since making his professional debut in the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but the opportunity to get to grips with this stadium-like venue comes at a nice time in his schedule and he rates a very worthy favourite - despite his grandmother reporting that he has been under the weather.

In opposition are many of Europe's best players, some with work to do if they're to line-up against Thomas, and surely the outcome of this Rolex Series event will go a long way towards finalising Thomas Bjorn's side. Victory for one of those currently inside the automatic qualification spots could seal the deal, while anyone on the outside looking in is entitled to think that there can be no better place to turn the Dane's head.

Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood is arguably the chief threat to Thomas as he looks to complete a potentially significant double. The Englishman snapped a run of missed cuts at this course with a tenacious victory last year having done something very similar in Abu Dhabi. Twelve months on, he's defended in the Middle East and will fancy of his chances of a repeat with regular caddie Ian Finnis back on the bag.

Like Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Alex Noren are already winners of Rolex Series titles, and that's significant. Since Keith Pelley injected new life into these tournaments with significantly increased purses, only Thorbjorn Olesen goes down as a slightly surprising winner, his success in Italy having come somewhat out of the blue, but while out of form prior to it the man they call Thunderbear is fairly prolific and undeniably classy.

With that in mind it should very much pay to focus on the head of the market and I'm keen on the forgotten man, Sergio Garcia.

Incredibly, the Spaniard makes his debut at Le Golf National this week, and he does so in need of a big summer. Garcia has fallen outside the automatic qualification spots for the Ryder Cup and while virtually guaranteed a wild card, Bjorn would much prefer not to have to spend one of those on someone who should be up to earning his place.

Gladly, Garcia showed signs of life back on the European Tour last week with a top-15 finish in Germany, one which brought to an end a run of missed cuts which ranks alongside the worst stretches of golf in a career which goes back two decades.

This is a step up in grade from the BMW International Open, but Garcia led the field in accuracy thanks to a superb tee-to-green performance at Gut Larchenhof and that's a vital sign that he's back on the bike following a disappointing spring, one which may have had something to do with becoming a father and suffering a difficult Masters defence.

Garcia said last week that he's all too aware of his current predicament and it could well be that he's able to take another step forward at Le Golf National, a course that rewards excellent drivers, a domain in which Garcia has been virtually peerless throughout his career.

As well as generally hitting the ball straight off the tee and setting up chances, the key pointer here down the years has been bogey avoidance. Each of the last five champions led the field during the week of their victories, the previous two having ranked second, and keeping those big numbers off the scorecard is the most direct path to success.

At his best, Garcia excels in this department, too. Last year he ranked first on the European Tour and 17th on the PGA Tour, thanks not only to his long-game, but those magic hands around the greens and a putting method which has become much more reliable - particularly from range - than was once the case.

There's also a chance that form in the Abu Dhabi Championship, that event Fleetwood has now won twice, counts for something here. Fleetwood's first success saw four current or future Paris champions finish inside the top five while Martin Kaymer and Pablo Larrazabal are others to have done the double.

Garcia's record in Abu Dhabi shows six cuts made in six, all top-20 finishes, and while concerned over the state of his game a month ago, there was more than enough in last week's effort to suggest he could quickly turn the corner.

Having won five of his last 50 European Tour starts and picked up a title in France's Trophee Lancome on a rare foray here, the Spaniard rates a value play at the front of the market. At his absolute best he would of course be considerably shorter and the risks are worth taking on board.

At a similar price, I'm also sweet on Ian Poulter who, like Garcia, is a virtual certainty for a Ryder Cup pick but would like to wrap up a place without needing a handout from Bjorn.

Poulter has enjoyed a superb year, winning in Houston and adding six top-25s in seven subsequent starts, a run which includes contending at the US Open until he was badly set off course on that controversial Saturday afternoon.

It's been some effort for this mainstay of Ryder Cup golf to just about wrap up his return to the European side and at seventh in the PGA Tour's bogey avoidance standings, it's clear that Poulter is avoiding the kind of mistakes which had previously undermined so much of his good work.

Once again looking like a knockout putter, he's also striking the ball as well as he ever has and we saw in Houston that if an opportunity does arise, this chest-beating warrior is capable of taking it. Love him or loathe him, it's hard not to admire just how tough Poulter is and that's a valuable asset around a golf course like this one.

Poulter's record at Le Golf National shows 12 cuts made in 12 visits, a top-five strike-rate of 25 per cent and a scoring average of little more than 70, which stacks up really well on one of the toughest courses played on the European Tour.

Currently 27th in driving accuracy, 25th in strokes-gained approach and 12th in putting, all aspects of his game are firing and I'm not sure I see a player in this field with a stronger blend of current and course form. Typically, that makes for an unbackable proposition but that's not the case at 25/1 and he's a confident each-way selection.

Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup and, on the right, in Houston
Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup and, on the right, in Houston

At twice the price I also like the claims of Ross Fisher, a player who has been knocking loudly on the door for some time now.

Three starts ago, Fisher struck the ball well for eighth at Wentworth and while down the field at the US Open last time, he again showed that his tee-to-green prowess remains very much in place.

The confidence Fisher exudes off the tee can be a massive weapon around a hazard-lined course such as Le Golf National and Fisher has gradually warmed to the venue, contending throughout on his way to seventh last year.

"I felt like I could finally see my way around the golf course, and obviously it's a big year this year and next year, what with it being Ryder Cup and also obviously now with it being a Rolex Series event," he said back then, and that level of comfort is displayed by greens-in-regulation rankings of first, third and seventh on his last three visits.

Third among this field in ball-striking over the past 12 months of European Tour golf and three times a runner-up in high-quality fields during that time span, Fisher looks to have every chance to get in contention and put his nerve to the test.

His victory at Celtic Manor, a former Ryder Cup venue, ties in really nicely with several past Open de France champions and at 50/1 there's enough juice in the price to get involved as he too looks to force his way into the picture for September's clash.

Ross Fisher
Click on the image for Sky Bet's latest odds

At a similar price, Thomas Pieters was among the first on the shortlist but he's needed an electric short-game to piece together solid rounds at this course and I'd like to have seen more from his long-game lately.

The Belgian is in a very similar boat to Garcia but with even more to prove and it wouldn't surprise were he to build on a pair of top-20 finishes by contending here, yet I can't shake the belief that a six or a seven will work its way onto his scorecard and it's that propensity for a ruinous mistake which is so off-putting.

Chris Paisley's bogey avoidance ranking (third), Abu Dhabi effort (third) and return to some kind of form last week earn him a say in the conversation at 125/1, but last on my list is his young compatriot Aaron Rai.

The Wolverhampton pro bagged fifth place in the BMW International Open last week and the demanding conditions of Gut Larchenhof should make it an ideal way to prepare for this move west to France.

Rai stuck it out really well in a week which saw him earn some kind of sports car for a hole-in-one and it's no surprise to see him quickly establish a level of comfort on the European Tour, because he looks a player of immense potential and one who makes so few mistakes.

At seventh in driving accuracy, 20th in greens and 31st in bogey avoidance, Rai's straight-shooting talents look ideal for Le Golf National and while it's a big ask to contend here on course debut, Alex Bjork did it last year and Rai is just as capable.

His performance in Germany was as close to complete as he's produced so far at this level and the three-time Challenge Tour winner can be fancied to at least find his share of fairways and greens, which in turn can ensure that he sticks around while others are making mistakes.

Bjork himself is of some interest having finished third when playing in the final group here last year. The Swede has since earned his first European Tour win and two solid enough efforts in three starts since that success in the China Open suggest he's not about to rest on his laurels.

Matt Fitzpatrick was very close to selection but he's hit some devastatingly wild shots at the wrong moments lately and that, combined with a poor course record, rates a concern, and truth be told the only other player I came close to selecting was the favourite.

Thomas missed the cut on his last start in Europe, one of just three in total, and that is a worry on the back of a lacklustre effort in the Travelers Championship. Perhaps he'll be happy enough to get four rounds under his belt but if there's one name in this field which would cause serious ripples if working its way up the leaderboard, it's his.

Posted at 2035 BST on 25/06/18.

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