George Coetzee, Ryan Fox smash low-key atmosphere to lead French Open

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George Coetzee, Ryan Fox smash low-key atmosphere to lead French Open

Euro Tour

George Coetzee, Ryan Fox smash low-key atmosphere to lead French Open

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The atmosphere at Le Golf National for the opening round of the $1.8 million French Open was just a wee bit different than for Europe’s outstanding Ryder Cup victory 12 months ago.

“Atmosphere” might be stretching things more than a little. A smattering of fans watching B list stars is a far cry from the throngs that watched 24 of the world’s best players 12 months ago.

French player Benjamin Hebert rewrote the definition of understatement when he said: “It was a bit quiet.”

Bit quiet? Funerals have been livelier. Volunteer marshals seemed to make up half the crowd.

Such is the way when the Ryder Cup rolls out of town. Tournaments that once paved the way for the match either disappear – remember the Wales Open? – or get downgraded to the point where top stars won’t roll out of bed for pittance (in their eyes) prize funds.

Last year’s French Open was a $7 million Rolex Series event with a prime end of June date. It attracted a world class field that included Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren, all of whom went on to play in the Ryder Cup. They were among the 12 World top-50 players in the tournament.

There are no World top 50-players this year. Defending champion Noren is the highest ranked player in Versailles this week at World No. 53. He had to take a back seat to the B-listers. He opened with a 1-over 72 and stands eight shots behind George Coetzee of South Africa and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. They returned matching 6-under 65s.

Hebert is in a tie for second place on 5 under with Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and former UNLV player Kurt Kitayama.

Coetzee won last year’s Tshwane Open and has three top-10s this campaign, including runner up in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

“It was almost perfect,” Coetzee said. “Played really well. Just dropped one on 17, but I can’t complain. It’s nice to be in the mix again. It’s been kind of a hard, long year, but it feels like the game is coming along nicely.”

Fox won his first European Tour event earlier this year, the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, but he’s still looking for his first 72-hole stroke play win.

Like Coetzee, the long hitting Kiwi only had one blemish on his card, a bogey at the 13th.

“I’m pretty happy,” Fox said. “I played pretty solid today. Holed some putts. Played those tough holes, that closing stretch, really well. I could have potentially grabbed a couple more on those last four, which is always a bonus, but very happy to walk away with a 65 around here.”

Kitayama finished third in last week’s $7 million Italian Open. That result took him to 15th on the Race to Dubai. Not many would be surprised if he finishes higher than that at the end of the year. He already has two wins this season, and can become the first American since Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara to win three European tournaments in a single season with victory this week.

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