French Open heartened by entries despite injuries


VERSAILLES, Franc – There was a small sense of relief among the organizers of the French Open on Wednesday when Lee Westwood was cleared by hospital tests of having a blood clot in his right calf muscle.

The Englishman, at No. 3, was the highest ranked of the four top-10 players set for Thursday’s start at the Le Paris National course on the outskirts of historic Versailles.

They represented the top end of the strongest ever field assembled for the oldest of continental Europe’s open championships. The French Open dates to 1906, and its purse of just over $4 million ranks among the top five biggest on the European Tour.

More significantly, however, is the timing, in which the French Open falls in the middle of the bidding process among five European countries to stage the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Le Paris National, with its stadium-style banking on most of its fairways, is the candidate course for the French Ryder Cup bid, and every effort has been made this week to paint it in its most favorable light.

However, on Wednesday, the course was in danger of not being graced by some of Europe’s biggest stars.

Westwood was not the only name to pay a visit to the European Tour’s physiotherapy truck. Late fitness tests could yet weaken the field before the start of the first round.

World No. 8 Ian Poulter was forced onto a course of strong antibiotics after a bite from a horsefly became infected. Europe Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie withdrew from the pro-am fearing further damage to the calf muscle he pulled last week.

Most bizarrely of all, exciting Italian teenager Matteo Manassero injured his wrist when he was hit by a flying golf ball during a practice round.

Pascal Grizot, the president of the French Ryder Cup committee put a brave a face on the potential withdrawals.

“Whether they play or not should not affect the Ryder Cup bid though obviously we are sad for them if they withdraw,” Grizot said.

“But the fact that such good players have turned up for this year’s French Open shows the importance of what is happening.”

Figures released by Grizot’s committee show that as well as the support of France President Nicolas Sarkozy, most of the nation’s 440,000 club golfers are also behind the Ryder Cup bid.

In a recent ballot, 83 percent of them agreed to pay an annual levy to help fund the 2018 bid. A successful week at Le Paris National could persuade the other 17 percent to join in.