After successive missed cuts, Rory McIlroy has added this week's St Jude Classic to his schedule in a bid to find some form ahead of next week's US Open.
Last year's US Open champion has failed to qualify for the weekend at Sawgrass, Wentworth and Muirfield Village (Ladbrokes go 8/1 he makes it four in a row this week), yet he's still challenging Zach Johnson for favouritism this week. Johnson, a winner at Colonial last time, is a top-priced 10/1 with Bet Victor, who have Rory a point longer at 11/1, and it's 20/1 bar those two, which brings in Dustin Johnson, David Toms and Graeme McDowell. All will be competing for a winner's cheque of just over $1m and, for those players not already qualified, a spot in the second Major of the year.
TPC Southwind is the host course for the 24th time, so there's plenty of course form to go on, and once again it should prove to be a gruelling test from tee-to-green. At over 7,200 yards, it's quite long for a par-70- track but the real challenge is to find the narrow fairways and smaller than average greens, with birdies hard to come by - last year, it surrendered an average of just 2.82 per round, the seventh-lowest all season. Recent heavy rain will have helped make them more receptive, though, and scoring could be lower than normal on Thursday and Friday, before reverting to type at the weekend.
My Three Against the Field:-
Chris Kirk @ 66/1 Paddy Power
All eyes will be on McIlroy this week and the Northern Irishman does have some form here, having finished 29th on his only start, but no-one in their right mind would consider backing him at just 11/1 in his current form. Even if he does find some sort of game, it's hard to believe he will be going all out for a win just a week before he defends his US Open crown. Johnson, on the hand, is playing some sublime golf and fully deserves to be included in any staking plan, if only as a saver. However, with the pair taking a decent chunk out of the market, there is good value to be had elsewhere and the 66/1 on offer for Kirk looks the best of the lot.
After a stellar season on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and a breakthrough in his rookie season at the Viking Classic, I expected him to really kick on in 2012, but that hasn't happened so far. He can be excused for having his mind elsewhere, though, as he became a father for the first time in March and it's only recently that he has shown signs of returning to form, finishing fifth at Colonial two starts back and following up with 25th spot at Muirfield, despite a pair of 75s. The term 'nappy factor' has been used many times in the past to account for the correlation between reproduction and success on the golf course, and I'm hoping Kirk can become the latest example. Granted, this is his first look at Southwind but he has the game to go well here - he ranks 41st in GIR and second in birdies or better on par-4s, which is important around this par-70 - and will see this as a homecoming, having been brought up in the host state of Tennessee.
Fredrik Jacobson @ 35/1 Boylesports
Sweden is well represented this week with Robert Karlsson, Henrik Stenson and Fredrik Jacobson all electing to tee up on this side of the pond instead of competing in the Nordea Masters on home soil. A case can be made for all three with Karlsson having the best course form - lost in a playoff in each of the last two years - and Stenson playing some great golf of late tee-to-green (if only he could putt!), but it's Jacobson who makes the most appeal as a betting prospect. His style may be unorthodox but he still finds a way of getting the ball in the hole and has shown a real affinity for this place with a string of high finishes, including when making the top-six three years in a row from 2003. This year's form has been a little in and out but this is one week he will be fired up more than most and I fancy he will be thereabouts once again on Sunday.
Kyle Reifers @ 150/1 Stan James
My final pick is more under the radar but there are good grounds for thinking the young American can go well this week. For starters, seven straight cuts in a row speak for his consistency and what's more his best stuff has come in the last couple of weeks with a tied-13th at Colonial and 25th at Memorial, where he started the final round in the top-10. In this relatively weak field and given his accurate style of play - ranked 49th for GIR - you have to give him a squeak of finishing in the frame at a whopping 150/1 with Stan James, and he looks a real contender for another top-10 finish at 14/1 with the same firm.
Zach Johnson 2pts @ 10/1 BetVictor
Chris Kirk 1pt each-way @ 66/1 Paddy Power
Fredrik Jacobson 1pt each-way @ 35/1 Boylesports
Kyle Reifers 0.5pt each-way @ 150/1 Stan James
Kyle Reifers Top 10 Finish 1pt @ 14/1 Stan James