One month after the European Tour kickstarted the Rolex Series at the BMW PGA Championship, the procession of premium events continues at the HNA Open de France this week.
The series was announced back in November and the inclusion of this event has seen its prize fund almost double from just shy of $4million last year to $7million this time around as the European Tour continues to fight against the power of its cross-Atlantic counterpart.
The elevated status and funding has played its part in attracting a powerful field, though, with PGA Tour regular Jon Rahm headlining the line-up in what will be his first regular European Tour event. After winning the first Rolex Series event at Wentworth last month, Alex Noren is the highest ranked player to enter at Le Golf National.
Rahm and Noren are joined by five other names from inside the world’s top 30 in Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Pieters and Bernd Wiesberger as well as four more from inside the top 50.
Thongchai Jaidee will return as defending champion after he stormed out runner-up Molinari, who came second for the third time, and Rory McIlroy in third place last year. Wiesberger is another returning champion after his three-shot victory in 2015 whilst two-time champion Graeme McDowell, Marcel Siem, Martin Kaymer, Pablo Larrazábal and Graeme Storm complete the plethoric list of returning champions.
The Open de France brings with it an element of tradition as the oldest national open in European golf and a regular on the European Tour’s schedule since the tour began in 1972. Celebrating its 101st birthday this year, the tournament boasts its biggest prize pot, and arguably strongest field, to date.
Le Golf National hosts for the 16th consecutive year and 25th overall time since its creation in 1991. The event, therefore, also provides an early insight into the quickly approaching 2018 Ryder Cup as the continental battle takes a trip to Paris next year.
The course is a par 71 measuring just under 7250 yards; with crisp fairways and an array of water, it has a definite TPC ‘stadium’ course feel to it, which is ideal for the Ryder Cup next year. Players at this year’s tournament will be the first to experience new drainage systems as well as landscaping and hospitality improvements all put into place in anticipation of next year.
It’s no pushover with the winning score only reaching 10-under-par twice in the past 6 years and 15-under-par only being broken three times since Le Golf National became the primary host for this event. Retief Goosen (1997) holds the aggregate-tournament-record score of 17-under-par here with Eduardo Romero (2005) setting the 18-hole record of 62.
Even with its elevated status and money, as many players from inside the world’s top 20 (three) enter the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National as they do the HNA Open de France this week. But as this week kicks off a run of three consecutive ‘premium’ events, the European Tour now has a great opportunity to show how serious they hope the Rolex Series to be.