It should be without question that the man of the moment in European golf is England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
In the past year the 27-year-old has won his first Rolex Series event, been crowned Race to Dubai champion, become just the sixth man to score a 63 at the US Open (a joint all-time-low) and most recently broke into the world’s top 10.
He’ll stay the centre of attention this week, too.
Surprisingly, in Fleetwood’s Race to Dubai winning campaign he took home just two titles: the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the HNA Open de France.
That means the Southport-native will be defending his title at Le Golf National this week.
How did his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship defence go, you ask? Oh. He won it. Again.
Just two weeks after making US Open history he’ll fancy his chances this week too.
This is one of the European Tour’s seven Rolex Series events; the big money, the big prizes and, therefore, the big fields.
It probably helps, too, that it’s being hosted by the same course set to hold the Ryder Cup in September, with many wanting to get an early look in.
But nevertheless, for a purely European Tour sanctioned event, the field is big.
World-number-two Justin Thomas will make just his second solely European Tour start (after the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2013) and Spanish wonder kid Jon Rahm will return to European action after a two month absence (his last Europe start resulted in a win at the Open de Espańa).
There are more stalwart names in the lineup including the likes of Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ian Poulter who join Thomas, Rahm and Fleetwood in completing a list of eight of the world’s top 30 in this week’s field.
Last week’s BMW International Open winner Matt Wallace is out again for more of the same this week along with all three of his runners up in Martin Kaymer, Thorbjørn Olesen and Mikko Korhonen.
Only seven Frenchmen have run out victorious in this event’s 112-year running but there will be a strong 17-man French contingency trying to increase that to eight this time around. That includes the nation’s front runner Alexander Levy, Matthieu Pavon, Grégory Bourdy and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
The full field can be found here.
As we said, it was Fleetwood who ran out as champion last year. A regimented final-round 66 from Fleetwood ensured he finished one ahead of American Peter Uihlein in second and it was this event that sprung him into the Race to Dubai lead.
Englishmen do have a good record at this event; Fleetwood was the 18th English winner here and the good news is four of those went on to defend their title the following year. None of those past English winners – other than Fleetwood – are back this year though.
But there are six more past winners in the field – Thongchai Jaidee (2016), Graeme McDowell (2013 & 2014), Marcel Siem (2012), Kaymer (2009), Pablo Larrazábal (2008) and José Maria Olazábal (2001) – joining Fleetwood.
Le Golf National will have a chance to shine this week, and be under intense scrutiny. As the host of this year’s Ryder Cup there will perhaps be more eyes on this event than usually experienced on the European Tour.
So it should come as no surprise that Ryder Cup hopefuls Rahm, Fleetwood, Garcia, Noren, Hatton etc etc are all out in full force this week.
In fact, Thomas has almost admitted he’s come over as an agent for the US team to scout the course out.
“I’m hoping to get some good vibes from it and learn a few things about the course. It’s always good to help provide any information that might help our team prepare,” he confessed.
This week will offer an insight to the strengths and weaknesses, the beauty and flaws and the hits and misses around Le Golf National’s Albatross Course.
But if any course in France is up to the test then it is without a doubt this one. Le Golf National, set in Paris, has hosted the French Open 25 times (this year being the 26th) since its opening in 1990, only missing out in 1999 and 2001.
For a championship parkland course it isn’t too daunting in terms of length. At a par 71 it only measures 7247-yards and has been turned over in 62 shots by Eduardo Romero in 2005.
The greens are not overly quick and the rough is very playable. What makes this course a challenge is tight landing areas and water in play on 10 holes, including 15, 16 and 18.
That better explains the average winning score of the past 10 years sitting at just 10-under.
The stakes match the status this week.
As a Rolex Series event, the prize money sits at $7,000,000 – the joint third highest for a pure European Tour event – and equates to exactly the same in Race to Dubai points. With a weighty field the world ranking points will be healthy too.
But something perhaps unforeseen at stake this week, is the chance to prove to Ryder Cup captains Thomas Bjørn and Jim Furyk an ability to play around the very course that will test Europe and America’s elites in September.
Prove yourself this week and a place could be yours in three months time.
The opening round tees off tomorrow at 07:30am local time.