A field of exceptional quality will gather at Le Golf National this week for the Open de France, the oldest of the continental Opens, which this year carries a record prize fund of €3,000,000.
This represents a 20 per cent increase on the 2003 figure of €2,500,000 and a 150 per cent increase from 2000 when the figure stood at €1,200,000. Indeed, over the past five years from 1999, prize money for the Open de France has grown by 250 per cent from €850,000.
The winner this week will claim €500,000, all of which has attracted one of the strongest fields in the long and illustrious history of this prestigious event, first played in 1906.
Robert Allenby from Australia, the 1996 champion, England’s Paul Casey, South African Trevor Immelman and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, all currently in the top 40 in the Official World Golf Ranking, headline the field along with European Ryder Cup Team Captain Bernhard Langer, seven-time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie and double Masters Champion José Maria Olazábal.
The cream of European golf is further represented by the last four Volvo PGA Championship winners in Scott Drummond of Scotland, Ignacio Garrido of Spain, Anders Hansen of Denmark and Andrew Oldcorn of Scotland.
The home challenge is also particularly strong this year as the French look for their first home winner since Jean Garaialde in 1969. Raphaël Jacquelin has recorded three top four finishes already this season while Christian Cévaër claimed his maiden victory when he won the Canarias Open de España in April. Thomas Levet, runner-up in the 2002 Open Golf Championship, returns to France after competing in last week’s US Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills. Add into the mix Francois Delamontagne, Gregory Havret, Jean-Francois Lucquin, Jean-Francois Remesy and Jean Van de Velde and there is plenty for the home crowd to cheer about.
The home fans will also be able to welcome the latest Tour winner as Philippe Lima tees up in his National Open as a winner for teh first time following his victory in the Aa St Omer Open.
The French challenge will be further bolstered with 16 places available through qualifying on Monday June 21 at Golf de Chantilly.
Casey, at 27th in the World is the highest ranked player in the field, but he is joined by other young guns Simon Khan, winner of the Celtic Manor Wales Open, Graeme McDowell, the Telecom Italia Open champion, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose in the race for valuable Ryder Cup points.
England’s Philip Golding will be defending the title following his emotional victory 12 months ago when, after a record 16 visits to The European Tour Qualifying School and 20 years of sheer endeavour, he birdied the final hole at Le Golf National to claim his maiden title by one stroke from compatriot David Howell.