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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Matsuyama geared for a successful defence

Asia's best player should be confident of a repeat

Hideki Matsuyama is a popular choice
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Sky Sports 4, 8pm Thursday

Wilkerson's top tip
Hideki Matsuyama 11-1

The Phoenix Open would be the last place many US Tour players would consider as part of their schedule.

Boisterous crowds which dwarf many top Stateside events out-cheer and out-beer virtually any other golfing gallery, especially at Scottsdale's famed 16th stadium-hole where the atmosphere makes finals night at the PDC Darts at Alexandra Palace look like a quiet night in front of the telly.

Many of golf's post-Tiger generation revel in it and take it in their stride and it is quite a surprise that mild-mannered Japanese sensation Hideki Matsuyama has taken the Arizonan track to his heart.

The 24-year-old claimed his second PGA Tour title in a playoff against Rickie Fowler last year after his opponent threw away a two-shot lead with two holes remaining.

And that performance has been a springboard for him to solidify his spot as Asia's top player and he can increase his tally with a successful defence this week.

He had finished tied for fourth and tied for second in the previous two Scottsdale showpieces and while there may be some concerns that he was just 33rd in last week's Farmers Insurance, he missed the cut at Torrey Pines in the run-up to last year's success.

His excellent course record and solid tee-to-green game should make him a big factor this week at a venue where he has had no problems shutting out any distractions before.

Next best
Russell Knox 50-1

Matsuyama led the Scottsdale field in greens-in-regulation on his way to last year's triumph and that should be encouraging news for Scot Russell Knox.

He finished tied for 15th in his only spin around the course two years ago and he should be full of confidence having carded five successive top-20 finishes.

Although he is not the biggest hitter in the field, he is tenth in the PGA Tour GIR standings and his recent form suggests he is capable of making his presence felt.

Knox won the WGC-HSBC Championship in China and the Travelers Championship last year and another success may not be far away.

Other selections
John Rahm 22-1
Brendan Steele 40-1
Keegan Bradley 66-1

Jon Rahm broke his PGA Tour in style at the Farmers Insurance Open after drowning a mammoth eagle putt on the 18th to claim a three-shot victory, just as heavily populated chasing pack were right on his tail.

The 22-year-old showed just the sort of emotion that the Scottsdale crowd will love, not to mention an aggressive style which should mean he performs well, as he did two years ago when he finished fifth as an amateur.

The former Arizona State University star should also receive plenty of support.

Like Knox, Brendan Steele is a greens-in-regulation machine, who has posted some decent Scottsdale finishes, including three top tens.

He has finished sixth in the Tournament of Champions and the CareerBuilder Challenge since the turn of the year and he could make a bold bid.

Many thought former USPGA champion Keegan Bradley would fade from the picture after anchoring belly putters was outlawed, but although it has taken a while, he is finding his feet again.

His confidence will have been boosted by his ability to find greens and his putting at the Farmers, where a closing 67 earned him a share of fourth.

Bradley has made the cut in four of five Scottsdale attempts and could make even more of a mark this time.

Others to note
Jordan Spieth
The former world number one was seventh at Scottsdale and claimed third spot last time out at the Sony Open. Expect a bold bid.
Justin Thomas
Has two wins to his name already this year and should feature in plenty more this year, but he missed the cut in 2016.
Phil Mickelson
Will receive even more support than usual as an Arizona State graduate at a venue where he has triumphed three times before. Played well last week before fading on Sunday.
Rickie Fowler
Fowler should be desperate to make up for last year's disappointment but missing the Torrey Pines cut was not the start to the year he wanted.
Andrew Johnston
The atmosphere can be a culture shock for Scottsdale debutants but Beef should take to it like a duck to water and can make a big mark on the Tour for the first time

Staking plan
H Matsuyama
2pts each-way 11-1 Betway
R Knox
1.5pt each-way 50-1 general
J Rahm
1pt each-way 22-1 Betfred
B Steele
1pt each-way 40-1 general
K Bradley
1pt each-way 66-1 general

The lowdown

Course TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona
Prize money $6.7m ($1.17m to the winner)
Length 7,266 yards Par 71 Field 132
Course records – 72 holes 256 Mark Calcavecchia (2001), Phil Mickelson (2013) 18 holes 60 Grant Waite (1996), Mark Calcavecchia (2001), Phil Mickelson (2005 and 2013)
Course winners taking part Phil Mickelson (three times), JB Holmes (twice), Aaron Baddeley, Hunter Mahan, Mark Wilson, Kyle Stanley, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama
When to bet By 2.30pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports 4 from 8pm Thursday
Time difference Arizona is seven hours behind the UK and Ireland
Last week – Farmers Insurance Open 1 J Rahm (50-1), T2 C Howell (50-1), C T Pan (300-1), T4 K Bradley (125-1), J Rose (28-1), P Perez (80-1), P Rodgers (175-1), T Finau (66-1)

Course overview There are only three par-fives at TPC Scottsdale (the third, 13th and 15th), but the venue has traditionally played into the hands of long-driving, attacking players because of generous fairways and lack of serious troublespots.

Raw slugger JB Holmes announced himself on to the world stage with a barnstorming 21-under-par total in 2006, Aaron Baddeley repeated that feat 12 months later, then Phil Mickelson upstaged them both in 2013 with an awesome 28-under-par effort.

The track, used for this tournament since 1987, has been a fairly defenceless desert layout, although a $11m upgrade which took place after the 2014 renewal has added slightly to the challenge.

All 18 holes were slightly revised by Tom Weiskopf, the par-five 13th (tightened fairway and coffin bunker added near green) and par-four 14th (lengthened to 490 yards and uphill) seeing the most dramatic changes. Weiskopf planted 250 new trees.

The galleries are a test for the competitors, with a ridiculous number of people always packing into the stadium course. No fewer than 170,802 noisy punters turned up for the Saturday of the 2008 renewal and a bearpit atmosphere is created, particularly on the famous par-three 16th hole, where players are usually booed if they miss the green.

Tiger Woods enjoyed a hole-in-one at the 16th in 1997. Andrew Magee went even better than Woods in 2001 and aced the par-four 17th

Story of last year Rickie Fowler led by two shots with two holes to play, but he drove through the green at the par-four 17th, finding the water hazard. Fowler hit water again on the same hole in a playoff against Hideki Matsuyama, a par enough for the Japanese raider to triumph

Weather forecast Clear and calm all four days

Type of player suited to challenge The TPC Scottsdale remains a fairly straightforward test which suits aggressive golf. The likes of Holmes and Mickelson have graphically demonstrated in recent years how to overpower the venue.

Plenty of bottle is required to handle the vast hordes of boozed-up onlookers at the 16th hole to close out this event

Key attribute Power

His excellent course record and solid tee-to-green game should make him a big factor this week at a venue where he has had no problems in shutting out any distractions before.
E.W. Terms
Sky bet