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Fleetwood defending French Open title at ‘different’ Ryder Cup course

England's Tommy Fleetwood, finishing second at the US Open earlier this month.
AFP

Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France) (AFP) – Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood is keen to land an early blow for Europe ahead of September’s Ryder Cup when he tees off at the French Open on Thursday.

Jon Rahm of Spain and Fleetwood, two of Europe’s leading stars, line up in a strong field at Le Golf National, the widely-acclaimed course which hosts the 42nd Ryder Cup in just under three months’ time.

World number 10 Fleetwood, runner-up at the US Open earlier this month, said he was glad to be back at the challenging French course but noted that it had a new look about it.

“The course seems so different. It’s so set up now for the Ryder Cup in September… it’s like difficult to get your bearings a bit,” said the 27-year-old.

Spaniard Rahm, ranked fifth in the world, is another man expected to spearhead the European Ryder Cup challenge.

But the 23-year-old said he was looking forward to playing the French Open, not as a scouting exercise for the Ryder Cup, but because it remains one of the top events on the tour and a personal favourite.

“It’s probably one of my favourite courses all year, not only on the European Tour but worldwide,” he said.

“It’s a great golf course but it’s very difficult. It’s fair, you can think your way around it and if you’re smart enough, you can actually get a score but to win you need to play extremely good.”

Rahm said he had originally thought there would be more top Americans at the course, where they will be attempting to win the title on European soil for the first time since 1993.

“I thought there were going to be at least four or five,” he added.

“And if it wasn’t the players that were already in guaranteed, maybe the people who are on the edge (of gaining a Ryder Cup place).”

Justin Thomas, the world number two, is the top American contender in what he said was a “tremendous” French Open field.

The USPGA champion said a lot of Americans were unable to make it to Europe because of scheduling issues, but that many of those would be visiting the course outside Paris before travelling to the British Open next month.

“So it’s not like they are not going to see the course beforehand,” he added.

Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia is aiming to play his ninth Ryder Cup in September, having been a key member of six winning teams already.

Matchplay specialist and hero of the 2012 ‘Miracle of Medinah’ — Ian Poulter is bidding to further boost his hopes of qualifying automatically for the European team after an impressive return to form this season.

The 42-year-old could be given a wildcard by captain Thomas Bjorn if he fails to qualify, while Poulter’s fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton will also be looking to enhance his credentials for a rookie appearance in the 12-strong side.

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