José Maria Olazábal will defend the Novotel Perrier Open de France title this week when the oldest championship in continental Europe returns to Le Golf National for the tenth time.
Olazábal makes his first appearance of the year in a stroke play event in Europe after an outstanding start to the season on both The European Tour International Schedule and the US PGA Tour.
Olazábal started his 2002 campaign by finishing second in the BMW Asian Open and then went one better the following week when he won the Omega Hong Kong Open. A strong performance in the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play, in which he lost at the quarter final stage, and fourth place finish in the Masters Tournament have seen him take his season's earnings on The European Tour to 781,406 euro (£480,171) and move into third place in the Volvo Order of Merit.
The Spaniard occupies the same position on the US PGA Tour having won the Buick Invitational and recorded four other top ten finishes on his way to accumulating $1,772,273 on the US PGA Tour Money List.
Twelve months ago the double Masters Champion captured his 21st European Tour title with a two stroke victory over the Sangliers Course at Lyon Golf Club. Olazábal birdied the final hole to finish ahead of Paul Eales, Costantino Rocca and Greg Turner while the home favourites Gregory Havret and Marc Farry occupied fifth and sixth places respectively.
Colin Montgomerie triumphed the last time the Novotel Perrier Open de France was played at Le Golf National in 2000 when he finished with two eagles in the last five holes to edge ahead of England's Jonathan Lomas. Montgomerie, who led the Great Britain and Ireland team to victory in The Seve Trophy two weeks ago, returns to Le Golf National in search of his 27th European Tour title.
The Novotel Perrier Open de France also marks a significant milestone for another European Tour stalwart, Mark Mouland, who will be playing in his 500th European Tour event this week, becoming only the eighth player to have achieved that feat.
The field also boasts plenty of local interest with Havret and Thomas Levet, winners of the Atlanet Italian Open and the Victor Chandler British Masters respectively on The 2001 European Tour International Schedule, leading the home challenge.
Le Golf National will be hosting the Novotel Perrier Open de France for the tenth time this year. The Albatross Course was opened in 1990 after the French Federation, together with their principal course designer, Hubert Chesneau, took the decision to turn the area of completely flat ground into the first "National" golf complex in France.
The Championship itself is steeped in history, dating back to the first winner, Arnaud Massy, in 1906 to legends such as James Braid, Henry Cotton, Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke, J H Taylor and Roberto de Vicenzo.