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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Brandon Harkins could soar to top of Phoenix leaderboard

Rahm and Mickelson can thrill galleries

Phil Mickelson is treated like a god in Scottsdale
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Sky Sports Golf, 8pm Thursday

The huge Phoenix Open crowds are likely to be in vibrant mood for round one at TPC Scottsdale as two of their favourite sons play alongside each other – Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson have been grouped in the 2.56pm (UK and Ireland time) threeball.

Rahm, who became the world's number-one amateur while a dominant force for Arizona State University, is revered in this corner of America, while Mickelson graduated from the same college, lived in Scottsdale for 12 years and has won six US Tour titles in the Grand Canyon State.

That gathering, as well as the 2.47pm contest between defending champion Hideki Matsuyama and the playoff losers from the last two years – Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson – will command the largest galleries, but it is worth taking a chance that the first-round leader is a fairly unknown 31-year-old who is just starting to make a mark on the US Tour.

Brandon Harkins has competed on the Canadian Tour, the Latinoamerica Tour and the Web.com Tour, but is finally fulfilling his dream of US Tour action. And what a start he has made to life among the big boys. The 100-1 about Harkins topping the leaderboard after round one in Phoenix is generous.

Harkins opened his US Tour campaign with ninth place in the Safeway Open and his eight starts have yielded six top-25 finishes. This year, he has tied 25th in the Sony Open, eighth in the CareerBuilder Challenge and 12th last week in the Farmers Insurance Open. With confidence at an all-time high, he arrives this week for a home match – he lives in Scottsdale and knows the course intimately.

Overcoming Rahm, Mickelson, Matsuyama, Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and others over 72 holes for a maiden US Tour triumph is probably beyond Harkins at this stage of his career, but in an 18-hole sprint on a track he knows better than most of the field, he has to be a runner. The clincher is his perfect tee-time – first out at 7.20am local time – with fresh greens and relative peace in the stands.

Another Scottsdale resident can be followed in the top Great Britain and Ireland market. Martin Laird is the 9-2 outsider with Coral and Ladbrokes, a price full of juice considering he has only Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter and Russell Knox to beat.

Lowry missed the cut by four shots in the Farmers last week, despite professing his love for Torrey Pines after round one. Laird has also started the year poorly, but he has excelled at his home course in the past, finishing third in the 2011 Phoenix Open and fifth in 2015. The Scot is the longest driver of the GB & Ireland quartet, which counts for plenty on a layout that lends itself to aggressive golf.

Pick of the first-round threeball options are Bryson DeChambeau (5.14pm UK) and Byeong Hun An (7.47pm).

DeChambeau relishes the big stage and low-scoring tracks, and the former US Amateur champion can outgun William McGirt and Sang-moon Bae, while Kim is most comfortable on desert layouts and finished sixth in this event last year. John Huh and Harold Varner should be left behind.

Recommendations
B Harkins first-round leader
1pt each-way 100-1 general

M Laird top GB & Ireland
1pt 9-2 Coral, Ladbrokes

B DeChambeau to win threeball
1pt 6-4 bet365

B H An to win threeball
1pt 11-10 Coral, Ladbrokes, Sky Bet

With confidence at an all-time high, Harkins arrives this week for a home match – he lives in Scottsdale and knows the course intimately
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