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Alexander Bjork
Connor Syme
Callum Shinkwin
Marcel Schneider
Marcus Kinhult

Well, Ryder Cup selection certainly inspires.

A week after wild-card Shane Lowry achieved his best finish of his season – third at the Irish Open – all of the 12 European team members played the full four days at the tour’s flagship event – the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

Seven of the side finished in the top-10 with two more in the top-20. Whilst it looked for a while as though rookie Ludvig Aberg was going to back up his Crans success with a stunning back-to-back performance, he fell short when under the spotlight on payday.

Putting himself in the mix at halfway hasn’t been rare for this rookie – this was the seventh time in ten starts the Swede had been in the top-10 at halfway – but to do this at Wentworth, in a classy field, was impressive. He dominated the first 54 holes but looked as if he needed that sighter, in better company. The best is yet to come, and hopefully (for Luke Donald and the hoard of fans declaring the Sweded as the Second Coming) this isn’t a sign of nerves when in top company.

Taking part in the Ryder Cup at such a fledgling stage of his career is huge and Adrian Meronk, controversially left off the team, may have a point when suggesting the team should have been announced after Wentworth. After all, the decision was made after a four week break, two events and before the best event on the tour.

As the Pole said, there’s little he can do about it now and he moves on to Le Golf National in an effort to confirm his place near the top of the Rolex rankings, and a card on the PGA Tour

Given the French Open takes place just days before the Ryder Cup, the strength of the field holds up very well.

Robert MacIntyre joins in the fun, his third week in a row at the trio of tricky courses. Whilst he finished an excellent 8th on debut last year and would appear to still be riding high after making the European team on merit, his form has dipped across the last couple of weeks. Having finished 55th at Crans before being outside the top 40 last week. I’m not sure an outing at Le Golf National is the place to breed self-confidence. Iron play has dipped through the floor and, with the Marco Simone a course for genuine attacking play, surely he would be better off getting ready, rather than potentially facing another barrage of tricky up-and-downs.

Sadly, European golf fans didn’t see the 2018 Ryder Cup course between 2019 and 2022 due to Covid, but when play resumed last year, the trends remained the same.

Winner Guido Migliozzi led the approach stats around this tight, fairways-and-greens track., leading home players with form at Valderrama, Himmerland, Mauritius and Kenya. Those ties also fit with the likes of 2019 place payouts JB Hansen and Kurt Kitayama, both of whom bring Oman form (see Guido and Rasmus) as well as linking champion Nicolas Colsaerts with multiple-placed George Coetzee (and others) via Joburg.

Indeed, the French track couldn’t come at a better time for those that have performed well in Crans and Surrey, both providing a haven for players that don’t rely on the driver, but it’s one further UK track that may prove the most influential..

The market understandably has world number 18, Tom KIm, as favourite. Two easy wins during his rookie season on the PGA Tour have led him to a place inside the top-20 in the world, and he is certainly more appealing than Min Woo Lee.

At number 45 on the OWGR, the Aussie star isn’t all smash-it-and-grab-it, as results at Valderrama and Sawgrass suggest. Both are playing well at all levels, but neither appeal on debut around a track that saw the American team fare poorly when thrashed at the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Previous Wentworth winner, Billy Horschel, did make appeal as he continues to fight back from a mini-slump, but again this is his course debut. As such, if taking one from the top it has to be Alexander Bjork.

The 33-year-old has been in stunning form throughout 2023, missing just one cut (at the K-Club two weeks ago) and that by only one shot.

Previous to that weekend off, the Swede racked up a pair of runner-up finishes and six further top-10s, the most significant being at The Belfry, Himmerland and Crans whilst he led the European Open after three rounds and the Czech Masters at halfway, neither of which suit his accuracy over power.

It would have been easy to say he was done with the big finishes just a couple of weeks ago, but he bounded back last week with his fourth top-10 in five starts for driving accuracy, a season-long factor that sees him rank 3rd for the year.

Back that up with a ranking of 7th in greens-in-regulation and a perfectly competent top-30 for the short stick, and we have a great fit for Le Golf National, proven wirth a course record of 20/8/3 and rounds of 66 (2018) and 64 last year, lying second after day one and in the top five at halfway.

Whilst he may not have the icing on the cake – more of that in a mo – everything else suggests he has not finished yet and he lies ahead of the likes of MacIntyre in the race for the US spot.

The correlation with Celtic Manor is far too obvious to ignore.

French Open champions Alex Noren, Thongchai Jaidee, Graeme McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez have all won the Welsh Open (in one of its guises), whilst Peter Uihlein ran up to Gregory Bourdy in Wales before finishing second to Tommy Fleetwood here in 2017. One final link sees Tommy finishing joint-second alongside Shane Lowry to Joost Luiten here in 2014. It just makes sense.

With that factor and last week’s event in mind, it makes an awful lot of sense to go along with the 2022 Celtic Manor 1-2 in Callum Shinkwin and Connor Syme, both arriving here in differing long-term form but who both caught the eye last week.

Two-time DPWT winner Shinkwin is generally thought to need enough width to exploit his excellent, if sometimes wild, driving. However, he proved in that Welsh victory that he can grind out a victory, taking control and crossing the line four shots clear of his Scottish foe in just 12-under.

After the round, Shinks was asked if he was playing match-play when clear with his playing partner Julien Guerrier, and refuted that by saying he “was playing well” and that Celtic Manor was a “strong stroke-play golf course.”

Those descriptions fit this week’s task very well, and that welcome return to form last week suggests he may well be on the way to grabbing a top-50 in the rankings before the cut is made for Dubai.

It’s not impossible that his power game will thrive here – Nicolas Colsaerts managed to bomb his way to the title in 2019 – but I have Shinks as more than that, shown by last week’s 17th in driving accuracy, 3rd in greens-in-reg and top-10 for scrambling. New stylee? 8th for approaches and 5th for tee-to-green work nicely, his best figures since Italy, the two efforts book-ending a series of missed-cuts and a best of 61st in Ireland.

Given he was only one-under for his eight tries at the 17th and 18th par-5s last week, I’ll take that hint that the game is rounding nicely when not driver dominant, and fancifully that he repeats the form lines of 2022, winning after recording a seventh place finish.

Currently 60th in the table, the former English Amateur champion (beat Matt Fitzpatrick) will believe he can exploit the Dunhill Links in a few week’s time (runner-up last year, 10th in 2019). However, after his best-ever finish, by some way, at Wentworth, the powerful Englishman can at least match his best French Open result of ninth place on debut in 2016.

Connor Syme‘s claims are much clearer.

Top of my list pre-today was Joost Luiten, a player very hard to win with, but with excellent correlative form, some mentioned previously.

With the Scot, we also have that easily-linkable factor. Where Shinkwin used his length to rank 12th for tee-to-green at the welsh course, Syme used an all-round game to rank third for tee-to-green and 12th for around-the-green, some five shots better than the champion.

A former semi-finalist at the Amateur Championship, and winner of the Australian Amateur (won by Cam’s Davis and Smith – Min Woo and Tom McKibbin former runners-up) he was beaten at the final hole by Scottie Scheffler in the 2017 Walker Cup (look at the US side, incredible!). That is all form suggesting a class above the average and it may be that, after four consecutive top-10 finishes, Syme is now finding that level.

In his finishes at Galgorm, Crans, K-Club and Wentworth, the selection has ranked an average of around 21st for off-the-tee, 12th in approaches and fifth for tee-to-green, iron-play figures that are skewed by a bizarre drop in form on Sunday, when dropping his guard.

By no means the longest off the tee, Syme was cute enough to record one par-5 eagle on each of the first three days, enough to suggest his game is where he wants it, whilst he has now made his way into the top-50, sitting (however precariously) on a ticket to Dubai.

Third place finishes at The Belfry and Kenya last year tell us what we need, whilst I can’t baulk at top-10’s in Oman (see Guido, Rasmus, JB Hansen and Kurt Kitiyama) or Mauritius and Valderrama.

Syme is two missed-cuts from two here but the first was on debut some five years ago and the most recent saw him lie inside the top-40 after round one. Course experience is crucial here, with very few debutant champions and in the form he is in, expect to see another top effort.

I was tempted by fellow Scots, Ewen Ferguson and Richie Ramsay, on a course made for both, but recent efforts are very off-putting, so plump for Marcel Schneider and Marcus Kinhult to complete the plan.

First up is Schneider, who was fancied for this last year but lost out as he improves for a first look. That’s a start given his excellent closing 13th place in 2022 and, whilst he could be said to have been in better form 12 months ago, recent finishes disguise how well he is playing.

Officially the 33-year-old has just one third placed finish this season when always prominent in Singapore, but he was inside the top-10 during the middle of the Jonsson Workwear, again on the front page going into Sunday in Korea, fourth at the halfway stage of the BMW International, 10th at halfway in Scotland, 12th after three rounds in Crans and 10th into Sunday at the K-Club. It’s all a lot better than those final figures suggest.

Nothing is marvellous, nothing is horrendous and it’s all very Guido-like on the page. Something looks to be there, it will be putting it together and why not in France where the German has made it seven from seven lifetime cuts?

Marcus Kinhult is a similar beast, never really achieving what his natural talent suggests.

However, he led here through rounds two and three before being overcome on debut, before finishing fast in 2019 and losing out on a top-10 by just one place. Last year’s missed-cut was in the middle of a set of three lost weekends, although it was by only one shot and before a withdrawal from the Links.

Previously, the 27-year-old had finished eighth in Kenya, third in Qatar and third again at Hillside (won by Ramsay), a course on which he won his sole DPWT event to date, beating MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperrell and Matt Wallace into second place – all names that would fit right in here at LGN.

Over the last ten events, there have been encouraging signs with the Swede’s game, ranking highly at the Barbasol and Galgorm Castle, whilst he was inside the top-15 at some point during those events, plus Barracuda and Crans – four in a row.

He’d never played the K-Club before this month though might have expected to make the weekend at Wentworth given previous finishes of 10th and 12th. Ignoring the ‘mc’, the selection was in 33rd place after round one before making treble-bogey at both the 8th and 17th holes. Encouragingly, both were followed by birdies, and that might be enough momentum to carry him through this week’s favoured track.

In 83rd place on the Rolex rankings, the Swede looks assured of his card for the new 2024 schedule. This place would be the perfect course to consolidate that achievement.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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