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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections

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After an enthralling Italian Open at next year’s Ryder Cup venue, the DP World Tour moves on to Le Golf National, scene of one of Europe’s finest hours, a 17.5-10.5 victory at the 2018 running of the bi-annual festival.

With Valderrama on the schedule in three weeks’ time, the tour showcases a trio of its best courses within a month, and whilst deserving of a better field than present in France this week, the tournament should again provide viewers with a treat.

With the lowest winning total since 2000 being 16-under, and an average of 11-under, the focus is very much on a strong tee-to-green
game. The rough is up, the greens are tricky, and scrambling difficult. Those with low confidence in any aspect of their game need not apply.

2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts somewhat went against the grain when winning via a long driving game , certainly compared to the likes of runner-up J.B Hansen and third-placed George Coetzee, as well as previous winners Jaidee, McDowell and Levet. Like the differing results at the Marco Simone course over the last two runnings, we should resume normal service, with bombers not having so much of an advantage.

In a hard event to weigh up, here is this week’s best bets.

Antoine Rozner 28/1

Ewen Ferguson 45/1

Jorge Campillo 45/1

Marcus Kinhult 60/1

There are few of the top lot that can be ruled out.

All of Thomas Pieters, Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox and, Victor Perez appear very high on the season-long tee-to-green lists. The Englishman was the first one on my list but, at 20/1, he can be left alone, especially given I would have expected him to have done better than a best of 21st in three outings here.

Nevertheless, his is the type of game needed for here and with home support probably a boon, plump for Antoine Rozner to make the Gallic crowd go wild for the first time since Levet’s victory in 2011.

Since his last couple of appearances in his home country – ninth and 13th on the Challenge Tour – the 29-year-old has won in Dubai and Qatar in contrasting styles.

The first saw him putt the lights out to win in 25-under, whilst the more relevant victory was at wind-affected Education City, where he grinded out a one-shot victory in eight under-the-card, a final hole 60-plus foot putt sealing the deal.

2022 has been good.

The record of two top-10s in Spain and Crans disguise four further top-20 finishes, and that he was inside the top-10 after round two of the BMW International, round one of the Czech Masters, and rounds one and three at Glagorm Castle.

Indeed, it was after the first of those that he announced he was very happy with the way his game was trending, and, true to his word, his tee-to-green play has been nothing short of stunning.

Since July, he has averaged a ranking of ninth for approaches, two of those efforts rating him leading the field for tee-to-green. Using the older stats, Rozner has recent greens-in-regulation figures of 21/2/2/7/34/5, perfect for a course that will penalise anyone that constantly misses the short stuff.

There may well be a current issue about his putting, but that is true of all the better ball-strikers. After all, it would be neigh impossible to beat them if every facet was ranking in the top five.

Rozner is bound to know this course better than his ‘debutante’ status, so take him to prove himself in a very beatable field.

Qatar seems a bit of a theme with Ewen Ferguson taking the next spot in the plan.

The Scot owes us nothing after two wins this year for the Players To Follow in 2022 column, but I’m not sure he is quite finished yet.

Slightly naïve when in front on Sunday at the Kenya Open, his next two starts might show finishes of 61st and 40th but, again, they disguise better play than the record shows – Fergie was 11th after three rounds at the MyGolfLife and just outside the top-20 at halfway at Steyn City.

That experience no doubt led to a grinding victory – another to be seen in Qatar – where his solid tee-to-green game outlasted most of his opposition.

The game has continued in that vein, with a 12th place at Celtic Manor (7th after three rounds) being a fine correlation with this week’s track, followed by his second victory of the year at Galgorm Castle.

Probably his best effort was in Himmerland at the beginning of the month, when his all-round game was in superb shape, only giving way to a ridiculous pair of putts by Oliver Wilson. As he did in Ireland, Ferguson led the tee-to-green figures via both driving and irons, whilst his scrambling game was also highly ranked.

Despite the smiles, he may have been feeling that defeat when missing the cut at Wentworth, a course that doesn’t suit everyone on debut, and look at his price – over twice that of players that fail to convert winning chances.

At the same price, the mercurial Jorge Campillo is well worth backing to continue a solid bank of recent and course form.

Rather like previous Spanish winners of the French Open, the 36-year-old (yes, I thought he was older than that, too) has that capability to get out of trouble with the short game so identifiable with his compatriots.

One missed cut in his last nine starts shows he has a belief in his overall game, whilst six consecutive cuts sees him in the sort of form that should enable to challenge for his third European victory, after Morocco and (here we go again) Qatar.

Again his record shows just a couple of top-10 finishes this year, but he was in fourth place going into the final round at Kenya, top 10 for the middle rounds in Belgium, led the Irish Open at halfway and was in the final group on Sunday, whilst he closed late last weekend when it turned tricky in Italy.

With an 8th, 15th and 18th in six starts around here, it’s that ability to grind out a result that gives him claims this week. Campillo isn’t a strong birdie machine, so a winning score of around 10 to 12-under will do just fine.

Marcel Schneider and Romain Langasque both tempted me in at the prices, but whilst the former is in flying form, his record shows he improves after a first sighting at a course, so monitor him for a quiet debut and back him next year! As for the French native, he really should do well if his win at Celtic Manor and his home record has anything in them. The issue is that, at the moment, he is hitting it sideways off the tee and unable to recover with his irons – not a great combo around a tight track.

Instead, take a chance on Marcus Kinhult, who beat Robert MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace to the British Masters in 2019, held at the links of Hillside, his sole victory on tour to date.

The Swede, whose tee-to-green game doesn’t give him as much reward as it may be ought to, followed that win by making a tough up-and-down at the final hole of that season’s Nedbank Challenge to join Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off, both having come from off the pace at the start of the day.

Unfortunately, that one didn’t go his way, but he has continued to bank a solid record, including top-10 finishes in Qatar (hello, again), The Renaissance Club and Wentworth through 2020, before a personal nightmare.

As he explained in his DP World Tour blog, the 26-year-old started suffering with dizzy spells, eventually diagnosed with epilepsy. In terms of golf, we can put a red line through 2021 form.

Fortunately, the condition is now under control and having worked his way through the Nordic Golf League, where in two events he finished ninth and first, arrived at full fitness at Kenya to finish inside the top-10, before a closing third in Qatar (hello…oh, ok.)

Whilst he couldn’t capitalise on a place in the final two-ball at The Belfry, it was a good warm-up for a return to Hillside, where he would finish a never-nearer third, following that effort with a pair of 23rd place finishes at the Czech Masters and Crans.

It is worth noting that his best efforts in 2018 were in Qatar, at Wentworth and around here (when finishing in fifth place), whilst the last time the French Open was played here, he again finished quickly to be just outside the top-10.

Kinhult has ranked top-12 for driving accuracy in his last three completed outings, and in the top-20 for scrambling in five of eight starts. This is his track.

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Equipment

Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa

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Andrew Tursky was on site at the Fortinet Championship this week and got all he could handle in terms of new equipment news. There were new irons, drivers, and even headcovers all over the range, so we had to dig into two of the biggest stories out there on this week’s Two Guys Talking Golf Podcast (give us a follow on Instagram: @tg2wrx).

Rickie Fowler’s new irons

Rickie Fowler has been changing a lot of equipment in his bag as he has struggled to get his golf game back into shape. We have seen him with different drivers, shafts, irons, and putters throughout the 2021-2022 season. Fowler has typically played some form of blade during his career, and Cobra even made him some signature Rev33 blades that were beautiful, but razor thin and intimidating for us mortal golfers.

Rickie showed up to the Fortinet with some brand new, unreleased, Cobra King Tour irons. The King Tour irons look a lot like the current Cobra King Tour MIM irons, and we can only assume that the new Tour will replace the MIM.

The interesting thing about the King Tour irons is that they look a little larger than his preferred blades and that they might have a little more ball speed and distance built into them. From the images you can tell there is a little slot behind the face that might be filled with some type of polymer.

Rickie didn’t get into the tech of the new King Tour irons but did tell Tursky that he was gaining around 3-4 yards on shots that he stuck low on the face. He finished the first round of the Fortinet Championship in the top four, so the new irons have seen some success under pressure. I know many of us hope to see Rickie back to form soon, and maybe these new King Tour irons can be the catalyst.

Hideki Matsuyama’s driver change

The other big story comes from a former Masters Champion testing out some new drivers on the range, Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is well known as a golfer who loves to test and tinker with new golf equipment. Each week there is a good chance that he will have multiple drivers, irons, and fairways in the bag searching for the perfect club that week.

Earlier this week, Hideki was spotted with some new, unreleased, Srixon drivers out on the range in Napa. We spotted a few pros testing the new Srixon ZX7 MkII and ZX 5 MkII LS on the range.

Andrew spoke to the Srixon reps and learned Hideki has been trying the new drivers and seems to have settled on a Srixon ZX5 MkII in 10.5 degrees of loft (and his trusty Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX shaft).

The ZX5 MkII LS looks to have an adjustable weight on the sole that is moved far forward —closer to the face — to possibly lower the spin. We haven’t heard anything specific from Srixon on the new drivers, but with their recent success, we would expect to see some solid performance out of the line.

Check out the full TG2 podcast, below

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Club Junkie

PXG M16 putter shaft: On-course review

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Exotic putter shafts are becoming a big thing and we have seen many models over the past couple of years. PXG is the latest to stuff a whole lot of technology and engineering into a putter shaft with its M16 shaft.

The M16 putter shaft is made up of a steel tip and a carbon fiber handle section that are bonded together to make a shaft that is 26-percent stiffer than a traditional steel putter shaft. The carbon handle section is made up of layers of carbon fiber, rubber, and 22 metal wires that run vertically through the shaft. This high-tech recipe creates a shaft that is stiffer and more stable than a traditional steel putter shaft. The shaft also comes in at a little lower price point than other offerings on the market at just an $89 upcharge when ordering a PXG putter.

I have played a handful of these new putter shafts, so I was excited to try this new offering from PXG. First off I love the look of the M16 with 3/4 of the shaft a matte black, it blends well with the black putter heads and grips. I have been playing the PXG Bat Attack putter this year with a traditional steel putter shaft and enjoy the stability of the putter and how the “wings” frame the ball. When I was fit for the putter PXG raised the weight of the head to help with the feel since I play the putter short, at 33 inches. PXG was kind enough to send me another Bat Attack in the same spec as my current putter, but with the new M16 shaft, so it was very easy to see how the new M16 performed.

Before heading out to the course, like all golfers, we do the waggle test, and just from that you can tell the M16 is stiffer than a traditional steel putter shaft. Out on the green the first thing I noticed, with the first putt, was the softer feel at impact. The PXG putters are fairly soft feeling anyway with their pyramid face pattern, but the M16 seems to soften that up just a little bit.

Impact brings your hands less vibration and a more solid feel as well as a more muted sound. I noticed the more muted sound with the M16 in my basement, putting on my mat. Outdoors you can still hear the difference between the two shafts and the sound is just a little more crisp, or high-pitched, with the steel shaft.

I said this before, but I am a big fan of a stiffer putter shaft and like the feel of the putter head not moving throughout the stroke. The M16 delivers on its promise of a stiffer profile and the putter head does not move during the stroke. For some players with quicker tempo putting strokes, the stiffer profile will more than likely give them a little feeling of added control.

On short putts the M16 feels stable and that the head is always aimed at your target line. There is zero movement or unwanted rotation from the head and you have the confidence to roll putts with a slightly more aggressive nature.

Lag putting I think is where the M16 really shines. The harder the stroke the more you can feel the M16 keep the putter head with your hands. The putter head just does not release as your bing the head to the bottom of the stroke to impact. Even with putts across greens and uphill you feel like you are in complete control of the putter and the ball leaves on your intended line.

Overall PXG’s M16 putter shaft is a great option at a good price to add some stability and feel to your putter. If you are looking to try an exotic putter shaft and don’t want to break the bank, then I think you have to give the M16 a good look.

More on the M16 putter shaft and new Titleist TSR2 woods in the latest episode of Club Junkie, below. 

 

 

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Instruction

Wedge Guy: Short iron challenges — and a little insight (hopefully!)

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In my experience, almost all golfers could benefit from better short iron play. The ability to hit it closer to where you are looking with your 8-, 9- and P-irons will do more for your scoring than most anything else you can do. So, why is it that so many golfers just don’t hit the quality shots with these clubs that they do and should expect?

I chose this topic in response to an email from Phillip S., who wrote:

“I’m hitting straight and consistent most of the time but I’ve got a big problem between my 8-iron and everything else below.  I can hit my 8-iron 140-145 fairly consistently every time.  I hit my 9-iron somewhere between 110-135.  My pitching wedge is a mystery….it varies between 85 -125 yards.  No matter how “hard” I swing, I can’t seem to hit my short irons consistent distances.  It’s maddening to hit a great drive followed by a pitching wedge short of the green from 110 yards away.  What am I doing wrong?

Well, Phillip, don’t feel alone, because this is one of the most common golf issues I observe. It seems that the lion’s share of technology applied to golf clubs is focused on the long stuff, with drivers and hybrids getting the press. But I firmly believe that the short irons in nearly all “game improvement” designs are ill-suited for precise distance control, hitting shots on the optimum trajectory or knocking flags down. I’ve written about this a number of times, so a little trip back in Wedge Guy history should be enlightening. But here are some facts of golf club performance as applied to short iron play:

Fact #1. Short irons are much more similar to wedges than your middle irons. But almost all iron sets feature a consistent back design for cosmetic appeal on the store racks. And while that deep cavity and perimeter weight distribution certainly help you hit higher and more consistent shots with your 3- or 4- through 7-iron, as the loft gets in the 40-degree range and higher, that weight distribution is not your friend. Regardless of your skill level, short irons should be designed much more similar to wedges than to your middle irons.

Fact #2. As loft increases, perimeter weighting is less effective. Missed shots off of higher lofted clubs have less directional deviation than off of lower-lofted clubs. This is proven time and again on “Iron Byron” robotic testers.

Fact #3. It takes mass behind the ball to deliver consistent distances. Even on dead center hits, cavity back, thin-face irons do not deliver tack-driver distance control like a blade design. In my post of a couple of years ago, “The Round Club Mindset,” I urged readers to borrow blade-style short irons from a friend or assistant pro and watch the difference in trajectories and shotmaking. Do it! You will be surprised, enlightened, and most likely pleased with the results.

Fact #4. The 4.5-degree difference between irons is part of the problem. The industry has built irons around this formula forever, but every golfer who knows his distances can tell you that the full swing distance gap gets larger as the iron number increases, i.e. your gap between your 8- and 9-iron is probably larger than that between your 4- and 5-iron. Could there be some club tweaking called for here?

Fact #5. Your irons do not have to “match.” If you find through experimentation that you get better results with the blade style short irons, get some and have your whole set re-shafted to match, along with lengths and lie angles. These are the keys to true “matching” anyway.

So, Phillip, without knowing your swing or what brand of irons you play, I’m betting that the solution to your problems lies in these facts. Oh, and one more thing – regardless of short iron design, the harder you swing, the higher and shorter the shot will tend to go. That’s because it becomes harder and harder to stay ahead of the club through impact. Keep short iron shots at 80-85 percent power, lead with your left side and watch everything improve.

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