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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Justin Thomas set to show why he is the best in the world

Kentucky man should be clear favourite

Justin Thomas arrived in poor form last year but finished fourth
1 of 1

Starts 1pm Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5.30pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka are the only members of the world's top ten who are missing the Memorial at Muirfield Village, Ohio, which starts on Thursday. Tournament host Jack Nicklaus has again managed to attract an army of superstars to his patch for a mouthwatering US Tour gathering.

Two of the elite are desperate to perform well, with the US Open looming and confidence levels wavering. Jordan Spieth could manage only a share of 32nd place at Colonial last week, a shocking effort on one of his favourite tracks, and the Texan remains winless since the last Open. And Rory McIlroy also has much to prove, having squandered a three-shot halfway lead at Wentworth over the weekend, losing his swing and surrendering meekly to Francesco Molinari.

Spieth and McIlroy are unappealing options for Memorial success, and their prominent place in the betting has helped create a fantastic price about a much more upbeat runner.

Palmer's top tip
Justin Thomas 14-1

For some reason, Justin Thomas does not get the respect he deserves from bookmakers and punters alike, and it is remarkable to find the world number one starting a tournament at a course he loves with people ahead of him in the betting.

Thomas took over top spot in the world rankings with a strong finish to the Players Championship and he deserves clear market leadership for the Memorial. It took him four goes at Muirfield Village before cracking the code, but he finished fourth last year and says it is one of his favourite tracks.

The affection for the course is understandable as it sets up perfectly for the pint-sized powerhouse, affording him plenty of room to be aggressive off the tee, then demanding accurate approach shots. He lasers in on his targets, finishing sixth on the US Tour strokes-gained-on-approach stats last season and lying in seventh position this term.

The USPGA and FedEx Cup champion endured a small putting blip from the Zurich Classic through the Wells Fargo Championship, but he slowly but surely got his act together last time out in the Players Championship, setting himself up for a strong summer.

Thomas carded rounds of 73, 70, 68 and 66 at Sawgrass, a daily improvement which was enough to claim 11th place and overtake Dustin Johnson as the planet's premier player. Only one man in the field bettered that Sunday 66 and Thomas had clearly got his putting stroke sorted.

It was a monkey off the back of the 25-year-old to become number one for the first time. He had been threatening to claim the position for a while, admitting it was on his mind during his WGC-Match Play semi-final defeat, and should be more relaxed now that status has been achieved.

Thomas is not surprised to get where he has – he is bursting with self-belief and anticipated reaching the summit at some point. The cocksure youngster thinks he is in his rightful place and on the evidence of the last 19 months, a spell in which he has won seven US Tour titles, he certainly is. Expect the new top dog to flourish.

Thomas won his lone Tour title – the 2014 Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship – in Columbus, Ohio, and he tees up in the same city this week. He was born in Kentucky, across Ohio's southern border, so is entirely comfortable in this part of the world.

Next best
Bryson DeChambeau 55-1

Another player with a Tour victory to his name in Ohio is Bryson DeChambeau, who won the 2016 DAP Championship to earn a promotion to the US Tour. Expect this quirky character to improve on a steady Memorial debut of 38th last year to threaten more glory in the Buckeye State.

DeChambeau, who enjoyed a magnificent amateur career and became only the fifth player in history to win the NCAA Championship and the US Amateur in the same year, won his maiden US Tour title in the John Deere Classic last year and has been strongly threatening a second success over the last four months.

The 24-year-old was fifth in the Phoenix Open in February, runner-up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, third in the Heritage and fourth in the Wells Fargo. He has been mixing it on high-class leaderboards, seemingly undaunted, and looks the man most likely to upset the market leaders at Muirfield Village.

DeChambeau is 18th in the US Tour strokes-gained-on-approach stats, exhibiting all the attributes required for Memorial success.

Other selection
Chesson Hadley 70-1

Complete a three-pronged Memorial attack with Chesson Hadley, who has slipped under the radar of some bookmakers despite notching seven top-20 finishes in a row. Six of them were as an individual, with the other being fourth place alongside a weak partner (Brice Garnett) in the Zurich Classic pairs event.

Hadley has never been more confident, fully establishing himself on the US Tour at the age of 30, and the 2017 Tour Player of the Year looks ready to win prestigious titles such as the Memorial. He has four victories to his name as well as a lone US Tour triumph – the 2014 Puerto Rico Open – and Muirfield Village is suitable terrain.

Hadley is fourth in the US Tour strokes-gained-on-approach stats and can be fancied to pepper pins over the next four days.

Others to note
Jason Day
The Ohio-based Aussie registered his best Memorial finish last year – a tie for 15th in his ninth appearance. He has won twice this season, though, and tops the US Tour putting stats, so this could be the year he seriously threatens victory in his adopted home state.

Charles Howell
The consistent US Tour performer finished ninth in the AT&T Byron Nelson last time out, producing an 11-under-par weekend, and could sneak a Memorial place at 80-1.

Tiger Woods
The living legend will be sniffing the turf where he has won five times, sensing a great opportunity, but it is five years since he played well at this venue. The assignment suits and he can be expected to contend, but a comeback victory may have to wait a little while longer.

Dustin Johnson
The Carolinian giant has been dethroned from the world number one spot after a quiet three months. He missed the Memorial cut by five shots last year when in much better form, but was third in 2016 and must be respected.

Patrick Reed
The Masters champion will note the similarities between Augusta and Muirfield Village, where he has a steady but unspectacular record.

Justin Rose
The Englishman cruised to a three-shot victory at baking Colonial on Sunday. The 2010 Memorial champion loves Muirfield Village and could threaten back-to-back wins if he has got enough energy left in the tank from scorching Texas.

Staking plan
J Thomas
4pts each-way 14-1 Paddy Power
B DeChambeau
2pts each-way 55-1 Betfred
C Hadley
1pt each-way 70-1 Sky Bet 

Tournament lowdown

Course Muirfield Village, Dublin, Ohio

Prize money $8.9m ($1.566m to the winner)

Length 7,392 yards  Par 72  Field 120

Course records – 72 holes 268 Tom Lehman (1994)
18 holes 61 John Huston (1996)

Course winners taking part Kenny Perry (three times), Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods (five times), Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Carl Pettersson, KJ Choi, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, David Lingmerth, William McGirt, Jason Dufner

When to bet By 1pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 5.30pm Thursday

Time difference Ohio is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Fort Worth Invitational 1 J Rose (20-1), 2 B Koepka (28-1), 3 E Grillo (50-1), 4 K Na (55-1), T5 K Tway (140-1), J Rahm (14-1), L Oosthuizen (66-1)

Course overview This Jack Nicklaus design, which has hosted the Memorial since 1976, has always proved a challenge for the US Tour’s finest. The 2013 Presidents Cup was staged there too. Nicklaus likes to create generous fairways but the bunkers at Muirfield Village punish the seriously errant. The greens are usually in majestic condition. It is more of a ‘second-shot course’ with hardly any margin for error on approach shots. The four par-fives (the fifth, seventh, 11th and 15th) are great chances for birdies, as are the short par-fours of three and 14. The 16th, 17th and 18th are seriously tough, usually averaging well over par, so the possibility of a late crumble is huge

The story of last year A rollercoaster week for Jason Dufner ended in glory. He squandered a five-shot 36-hole lead in the space of five holes in round three, but fought back from four shots behind on the final day to win by three

Weather forecast Hot, humid and stormy for the first two days, before a cooler, clearer weekend. Breezes could peak at 16 mph in round one and fade from there

Type of player suited to challenge Accurate iron play is the key to slaying Muirfield Village. Recent victories have gone to those carrying laser-like irons on a track where the second shot is usually considerably more difficult than the first

Key attribute Accuracy

World Cup quizzes 

Groups A & B

Groups C & D

Which World Cup legend are you?

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Thomas took over top spot in the world rankings with a strong finish to the Players Championship
E.W. Terms
Sky bet