Friday, 19 March 2010

A record prize fund of €4,000,000 plus the lure of vital World Ranking and Ryder Cup points has ensured this week’s Open de France ALSTOM at Le Golf National, one of the most illustrious events on The European Tour International Schedule, has attracted a high quality field for its 100th anniversary staging.

 

With The Ryder Cup at The K Club less than three months away, the race to be part of Ian Woosnam’s European Team is intensifying and that fact is illustrated perfectly by the fact that nine of the players who currently occupy the top dozen places in the qualification table will tee up at Le Golf National on the outskirts of Paris.

 

Leading the way will be three of the top five – England’s David Howell, Sweden's Henrik Stenson and José Maria Olazábal of Spain - Olazábal having already tasted victory in the tournament in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Not surprisingly, the illustrious trio will be amongst the favourites to triumph.

 

All of which attaches a distinctive sense of ‘joie de vivre’ to the oldest Open Championship in Continental Europe, which began in 1906 with a victory by one of France’s golfing greats, Arnaud Massy, and sees a modern day French favourite, Jean-Francois Remesy, defend the title.

 

This will be the 90th playing of the Open de France ALSTOM – only the advent of the First and Second World Wars halted the tournament’s progress – and the event has certainly come a long way since its first staging when Massy triumphed at La Boulie.

 

The French hero from Biarritz went on to defend the title in 1907 – the same year he became the first foreign player to win The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club which, coincidentally, returns to The Open roster of venues this summer for the first time since 1967.

 

Now, in 2006, with the backing of ALSTOM, the Open de France is one of the most lucrative events on The European Tour International Schedule. The increased prize fund of €4,000,000 caps a staggering rate of growth since the tournament became part of schedule in 1972, when the prize money totalled €15,000.

 

Even more startling is the rate of prize money growth in the last decade, which is more than 400 per cent. In 1996, Robert Allenby of Australia took the first prize of €140,000 from a prize fund of €840,000, while this year’s champion will pocket €666,660 from the €4,000,000 on offer.

 

ALSTOM will be hoping that their first year as title sponsor can produce a similar finish to that of last year’s event when Remesy recorded a second consecutive victory following a thrilling play-off with his countryman Jean Van de Velde after the two Frenchmen had produced a titanic final round battle for the trophy.

 

In 2004, Remesy ended a 35 year wait for a home victory. The last Frenchman to win his home country’s National Open before then had been Jean Garaialde in 1969. But whatever the nationality of the winner, he will join a list of past champions which, in the past 99 years, reads like a Who’s Who of golf through the ages.

 

In the annals are 18 Major Champions namely, Massy (winner of the Open de France in 1906, 1907 and 1925), J.H. Taylor (1908 and 1909), James Braid (1910), George Duncan (1913), Walter Hagen (1920), Sir Henry Cotton (1946 and 1947), Roberto de Vicenzo (1950), Bobby Locke (1952 and 1953), Byron Nelson (1955), Kal Nagle ((1961), David Graham (1970), Seve Ballesteros (1977, 1982, 1985 and 1986), Greg Norman (1980), Sandy Lyle (1981), Nick Faldo (1983, 1988 and 1989), Bernhard Langer (1984), Retief Goosen (1997) and José Maria Olazábal (2001).

 

Mention of Ballesteros is appropriate too for the Spanish legend is invited to the tournament as a former champion and will hopefully make his return to competitive action on a course which he graced with his sublime golfing talents for over a decade.

 

All players in action this week will find their games tested over one of golf’s most celebrated modern courses. Opened in 1990, the Hubert Chesneau-designed layout is a stadium-style course with lots of elevated viewing positions, ideal for the thousands of spectators expected to take in the action.

 

Water is very much a feature, especially over the amphitheatre-like closing holes with the water hazards coming into play on the 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

 

Especially in the latter rounds, players will not want to gaze into the depths, preferring to keep their eyes on the prize, but should they have a moment, they will see that the lakes are full of some of the largest carp in France that feed almost exclusively of the grass clippings from the golf course.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1BICKERTON, JohnENG18-11
2HARRINGTON, PadraigIRL18-10
T3FRASER, MarcusAUS18-8
T3POULTER, IanENG18-8
T3CAMPBELL, MichaelNZL18-8
6HANSEN, AndersDEN18-7
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