French Open set to tee off with solid field and 2018 Ryder Cup bid in mind

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Lee Westwood will wait until Thursday morning to decide whether he feels strong enough to play this week.
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Published: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | 5:49 p.m.

There was a small sense of relief among the organizers of the Alstom 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 field ever 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, but injuries have clouded the possibility that Westwood, Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie and Matteo Manassero will tee off on Thursday.

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.

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.

Westwood was involved in a hospital drama on Wednesday after he was initially told that swelling in his right calf and ankle might be a blood clot. But after pulling out of the pro-am at Le Golf National -- as Poulter, Montgomerie and Manassero did for different reasons -- and being driven away with his wife Laurae, further tests brought good news.

"The doctor has decided there is no DVT (deep vein thrombosis) or blood clot and that the problem has something to do with a reaction to the heat,” Westwood spokesman Stuart Cage said. "Lee is going to have an anti-inflammatory dressing put on the muscle and, if he rests up tonight, then hopefully the swelling will go down and he will be able to play tomorrow. He is certainly going to go to the course in the morning and make a decision then."

Westwood, who lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer last year, is this season skipping next week’s Barclay’s Scottish Open, so this is scheduled to be his final event before the British Open at St. Andrews.

"Lee felt pain in the calf and it was swollen yesterday, but when he woke this morning his ankle was swollen, too,” Cage had earlier stated. “Obviously he has to take the doctor's decision seriously because it's a very important time of the year with the Open coming up."

Poulter will also make a late decision whether to compete after reacting badly to an insect bite on his right shin. The world No. 8 believes a horsefly might have been responsible while he was practicing at Woburn on Monday.

"It was swollen yesterday and when I put my hand in my pocket I felt a big lump on my groin and knew it wasn't right," Poulter said. "I went to the doctors, was given antibiotics and decided I was well enough to fly this morning, but that's probably not done it any good.

"An English doctor said I should go and have an intravenous drip, but the French one did not think that was the right thing to do and has given me tablets,” he explained. "I'll come up in the morning to see how it is. Hopefully I'll be okay, but walking for five hours is not going to do it any good and nor is the heat."

Montgomerie was under treatment all last week in Munich for both a torn calf muscle and Achilles strain, and it came as no surprise when he decided to rest it Wednesday.

As for Manassero, the 17-year-old Italian was hit on the hand by a stray shot while practicing on Tuesday.

Last year's British Amateur champion has been assured there is no break and is keen to play after being given one of seven invitations he is allowed after turning professional following the Masters in April.

Westwood and Poulter are among four of the world's top 10 in the field, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy being the others, while two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal returns after nearly nine months out with further rheumatic pains in his shoulders.

This is not the start of his comeback, though. Olazabal suspects it will be his only event this summer.

"I'm giving it a try this week, but it's definitely the rest of the summer off," said the 44-year-old, whose problems go back to the mid-1990s, when he could not play for 18 months and feared his future would be in a wheelchair. "I feel better, but still have pain in my shoulders. It's just a game of wait and see, but it feels like a slow process -- it feels like the finishing line is near, but you never get to it."

Olazabal is the favorite to succeed Colin Montgomerie for the 2012 Ryder Cup in Chicago, but part of the reason for appointing Montgomerie was that he is still a European Tour regular.

"Sure I want it," Olazabal told Press Association Sport, "but the decision is not mine and a couple of things have to come into place. It depends on my condition more than anything else."

Montgomerie has stated his desire to have the two-time Masters champion as one of his assistants, but Olazabal served as Nick Faldo's vice-captain two years ago and has voiced doubts about doing it again.

"I've pretty much made up my mind, but that's private," he said. Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn are penciled in, but Montgomerie is making no announcement until after the Open in two weeks.

"My main target is just to get better," added Olazabal.