Addition of French Open to Rolex Series creates conundrum for European Tour's best players

Rory McIlroy's Saturday 1-under 70 at the French Open was anything but conventional.

Addition of French Open to Rolex Series creates conundrum for European Tour's best players

Euro Tour

Addition of French Open to Rolex Series creates conundrum for European Tour's best players

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The news that the French Open has joined the European Tour’s new Rolex Series brings with it a huge question: Which of three Rolex Series tournaments between June 29 and July 16 is set to suffer most?

A press release from the European Tour announced the addition of the French Open to the Rolex Series, something chief executive Keith Pelley wanted to broadcast in November during the DP World Championship in Dubai.

Pelley promised there would be eight Rolex Series events this year instead of the seven he announced in Dubai. He’s delivered on his promise, but will he deliver the sort of field expected by the tournament’s new title sponsor?

Chinese company HNA is backing the tournament, and the prize fund has been increased from $3.7 million to $7 million, the minimum amount for Rolex Series tournaments. HNA signed a five-year deal as title sponsor.

The HNA French Open begins a run of three Rolex Series events leading up to the British Open at Royal Birkdale. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation follows the week after. (You have to love short tournament titles, don’t you? Haven’t sponsors heard of Twitter?) Then comes the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

It’s a fantastic coup for the European Tour to have three $7 million events at such a critical juncture of the season, but surely at least one tournament has to lose out? It seems crazy to think the top Europeans will play three weeks in a row before the British Open.

Rory McIlroy played in the 2016 French Open, his first visit to Paris since 2010. However, the Irish Open was played in May last year.

McIlroy hasn’t announced his full 2017 schedule, and said in November he will not play all the Rolex Series events. It doesn’t seem logical for him to appear in France the week before the Irish Open, considering how much effort he puts into his own tournament.

Reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson didn’t play last year’s French Open, and hasn’t played in Paris since 2012. He did play the Scottish Open, claiming it was important preparation ahead of his historic victory at Royal Troon.

Stenson also has to defend this year’s BMW International Open – an event that could lose out big time to the Rolex trio – the week before the French. He might opt to play the BMW, skip the French and then play the Irish and Scottish before defending at Birkdale.

The French Open is the only one of the three leading up to the Open that isn’t on a links. The Irish Open is set for Portstewart in Northern Ireland while the Scottish is destined for Dundonald Links in Ayrshire, Scotland. Paris National, the 2018 Ryder Cup venue, is a fine course, but surely the top players will want links golf before Royal Birkdale?

Or will Europe’s elite opt for France, then links golf in the Irish and skip the Scottish?

HNA’s sponsorship marks a milestone in European Tour history: it is, according to the European Tour press release, “the first time a global organization headquartered in China has sponsored a European Tour event outside the country.”

You have to wonder what sort of return HNA will get on its investment this year? They won’t be too happy if the top European stars decide the French Open is the tournament they drop in preparation for a chance to win the ol’ Claret Jug.

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