Pablo Larrazabal will return to the scene of the greatest triumph of his short golfing career this week when he defends the title in the Open de France ALSTOM.
Twelve months ago, the affable Spaniard was not even on the radar of possible winners at the start of the week, especially as he had to go through the pre-qualifying event to even guarantee a spot in the tournament in the first place.
But all that was forgotten over a magical four days at Le Golf National, where he led from gun to tape and held off a star-studded chasing pack along the way, a pack which included former European Number Ones Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.
“There have been many things that I have done in my life but winning the Open de France ALSTOM was the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he said.
“It is nice to think back to that day and it will be good to see all the pictures of my win once again when I go back. It was the first tournament I won as a professional and it gave me a lot of opportunities like competing in my first Open Championship, my first US PGA Championship, and getting into the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of the year.
“The year as champion has gone very quickly but, thankfully, I still have many good memories of the week. What I was most proud of was the way I was able to compete with the big names of The European Tour. People like Monty and Lee as well as Angel Cabrera and Søren Hansen who were also up there.”
Larrazabal will attempt to become the first player to win in consecutive years since home hero Jean-Francois Remesy did just that at Le Golf National in 2004 and 2005 and indeed, only the fifth since the tournament joined The European Tour in 1972; the others being the impressive trio of Peter Oosterhuis (1973-74), Severiano Ballesteros (1985-86) and Sir Nick Faldo (1988-89).
The Spaniard will have some familiar company this week for also in the field is his younger brother Alex. “To have two Larrazabals competing will really be something to remember for the family. It would be great to end up playing in the tournament with him but we will certainly play some practice rounds together.”
If Pablo had to overcome a strong field to triumph last year, he will certainly have to do the same again as an abundance of players from the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking have travelled to France.
Leading that group is Irishman Padraig Harrington who will attempt to win his third Open Championship title in a row at Turnberry in two weeks’ time, and Angel Cabrera who took his own personal tally of Major Championship successes to two when he won the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in April.
However, other players from the top 50 keen to add the Open de France ALSTOM title to their respective CVs as well as the €666,660 first prize are: Miguel Angel Jiménez, Martin Kaymer, Søren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Alvaro Quiros, Jeev Milkha Singh, Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson.
Jiménez will have reason to celebrate the moment he tees off on Thursday as he reaches the notable milestone of his 500th European Tour event. He is only the third Spaniard to join the “500” club, after Santiago Luna and Miguel Angel Martin, and 19th player in total.