Alex Noren clinches French Open title to strengthen Ryder Cup case

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Alex Noren will turn his attention to the Open Championship after staging a remarkable fightback to claim the HNA Open de France title.

Going into Sunday’s final round, the Swede found himself seven shots off the lead, but birdies at the 16th and 17th holes helped him card a 67 to set a target of seven-under-par which ultimately proved beyond the field at Le Golf National in Paris.

That completed a 10-under-par weekend for Noren, who saw American Julian Suri’s challenge dissolve when he found water with his second at the 18th and emerged with a double-bogey six.

He told Sky Sports: “On a course like this, anything can happen and I was just trying to get to six, seven, eight under. I thought that could get you into a play-off.

“The feeling of the birdie on 17, I really wanted that. You always want that and finally, I made one of those when it really matters.

“It’s unbelievable. I never thought I was going to win. It’s a tricky golf course. The first two days were really tough for me and I played a lot better on the weekend.

“It’s not the way you want to see your opponent come in, but we all fight our there and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I feel very happy right now.”

Noren’s second Rolex Series title could hardly be better timed with the Open less than three weeks away.

He said: “The Open has been the best major for me result-wise. I’m going to have a week and a half of good practice and see what I can do.”

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World No2 Justin Thomas bidding for victory at French Open as he prepares for Ryder Cup

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World number two Justin Thomas insists he is at the French Open to win the tournament not scout Le Golf National for September’s Ryder Cup.

The US PGA Champion said his first appearance at the event in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, just outside Paris, was for personal and team gain.

“It obviously has some additional intent to it with the Ryder Cup, but it just worked out in the schedule for me to come here,” the American told a press conference.

“I wanted to play against a great field and it looks like we’re going to.

“It’s an opportunity for world rankings points and there are so many positives: an opportunity to come to Paris, visit Versaille and I didn’t want to take three weeks off before a major.

“It’s a big deal on the European Tour and I’m happy you are letting me come over here and crash the party.

“It would mean more to me winning a European Tour event because it’s something I’ve never done.

“It would help deep inside of me (for the Ryder Cup), but it is so far away and (the course) will be playing so different.

“It would be a tremendous honour just to win the tournament alone.”

Thomas revealed a number of his likely Ryder Cup team-mates will play the course next month when they make the trans-Atlantic journey for the Open.

However, he will not be joining them in France.

“I felt coming here and getting hopefully four competitive rounds and some practice rounds would be plenty for me,” added the 25-year-old, who has already done his sightseeing in Paris – avoiding the mistake compatriot Bubba Watson made in 2011 when he referred to “that big tower” (Eiffel Tower), an “arch I drove around in a circle” (Arc de Triomphe) and “a building starting with L” (the Louvre).

“For me the Open is a major which I prep my schedule around all year so I want to be rested for that.

“I will take a week off. Although it would be very productive in terms of the Ryder Cup I need to get my body and mind ready for the Open Championship.”

Thomas will play the first two rounds with defending champion Tommy Fleetwood and home favourite Alexander Levy.

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Underrated Brooks Koepka shows confidence and class to win second successive US Open title

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There were high scores, treacherous winds, frustrated golfers, vocal fans and chased down putts, but nothing could stop Brooks Koepka from becoming only the third player in history to win back-to-back US Open titles on Sunday.

Incredibly, two months ago, his sole focus was rehabbing serious damage to a wrist ligament injury that kept him out of practice for nearly four months, enough time for any golfer to forget what an eight iron or a putting green looked like.

Those long months at his home gym in Jupiter in Florida surely made winning a second US Open crown since Curtis Strange in 1989 seem like a scarcely believable dream.

And for much of the first two rounds at Shinnecock it appeared much the same as he struggled under the stiff winds and rocky greens on Long Island.

Six shots back at the start of round two, it looked like an uphill task for the 28-year-old to navigate, especially with the sparkling form of Dustin Johnson who was storming through the field like a Gulliver amongst a crowd of Lilliputians.

But, like any great champion, every bit of progress comes in gradual steps and Koepka posted a four under-66 to climb back into contention.

His versatility was demonstrated superbly on the gruelling Shinnecock course where under-par scores come rare. Last year at Erin Hills, he posted a 16-under 272, whereas this year he had to settle for a one-over par 281 (75-66-72-68).

His birdies on two, three, five, 10 and 16 pushed him into the lead on Sunday, holding off an impressive final round from Tommy Fleetwood who shot a scintillating 63 to finish second.

The low scores will undoubtedly milk the attention on Koepka’s scorecard, but it was the saved par from challenging positions on the 12th and 13th, and his stunning chip to a couple of feet on 16 that were highlights of a championship winning performance.

Some players can deal with the pressure, others crumble and only a select band can play to their potential on a consistent basis. Koepka is clearly a mix of all three and was rewarded for his intelligence and strategy on a course that saw marquee names like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods all fail to make it past Friday.

Discussions surrounding Shinnecock and the USGA’s handling of it may overshadow the tournament as a whole, but the achievements of a player like Koepka cannot be underestimated.

For the world No4 to show such consistency and confidence in just his sixth tournament this year after injury is incredible, and not only is he the first player to successfully defend the major in nearly 30 years, but the fourth golfer to win two US Open titles before turning 30, joining an elite club of Woods, Ernie Els and Jack Nicklaus.

Players like Johnson and Spieth may be household names in the US, but Koepka certainly has a bright future in the game ahead of him. And with it being a Ryder Cup year, he has the chance to be one of Jim Furyk’s key lieutenants at Le Golf National later this year as the Americans bid to defend their title on European soil.

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