With the U.S. Open coming up this weekend at Shinnecock Hills in New York, I got to thinking about how wild, and important, the PGA Championship could be this year.
Although it’s typically the most overlooked major in professional golf (and who’s to blame, with the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open rounding out the Grand Slam), Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis gets to host the year’s final major.
2018 marks the 100th playing of the PGA Championship, and there haven’t been this many intriguing storylines on the PGA Tour for quite some time. I’ll preview a couple just to get you excited for August 9-12.
Even if you’re not a golf aficionado, you’ve heard of the name Tiger Woods.
Before a cheating scandal and knee injury derailed his legacy both on and off the course, he was one of the most dominant athletes not just in his respective sport, but in the entire world.
It’s hard to compare Woods’ dominance to any other athlete’s. Maybe Michael Jordan’s or LeBron James’ in the NBA. Maybe Tom Brady and his five Super Bowl rings. Maybe Barry Bonds and his 73 home-run season.
None of those comparisons do justice to the kind of clinic Tiger Woods put on whenever he stepped foot on a golf course. He has 79 PGA Tour and 14 Major Championship victories to his resumé. The 42-year-old is four Tour wins away from passing Sam Snead for the most all time and sits just four majors back of Jack Nicklaus’ 18.
Woods may be 10 years removed from his last Major Championship in which he beat Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open, but he still thinks he can win another.
He’s competed in 10 tournaments this golf season, and has three Top-10 finishes (T2 Valspar Championship, T5 Arnold Palmer Invitational, T9 Hero World Challenge) and a T11 finish in The Players Championship. He was even the betting favorite heading into the Masters.
It’s been a roller coaster ride in 2018 for Woods with a couple low finishes and even a missed cut — something he didn’t do for eight seasons from 1997 to 2005.
Woods isn’t the same golfer he used to be, but has shown flashes of the same guy that won four straight Major Championships and seven straight PGA Tour events.
He ranks 12th on the PGA Tour in club head speed and 22nd in scrambling — two things aside from his putting that were a staple of his game. When he can get his putter going though, he can do some real damage. In Woods’ T2 finish in the Valspar Championship, he made just about every putt within eight to ten feet.
If he can put it all together come August, St. Louis could see something people around the sports world have been dying to see for awhile.
Justin Thomas Defending His Title
2017 PGA Championship and Fed-Ex Cup champion Justin Thomas has been one of the most talked-about players on the PGA Tour. His seven victories since 2017 have him ranked second in the world and first in the Fed-Ex Cup standings.
The 25-year-old looks like he’s 150 pounds sopping wet, but hits the ball a country mile — he hit a 461-yard drive in a tournament in Korea.
Thomas visited Bellerive Country Club the first week of June to start his preparation to defend his title and was greeted by a flock of media. He later visited the Gateway Arch, Anheuser-Busch factory and Busch Stadium, where he took some batting practice:
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) June 4, 2018
He’s got to fix that upper-cut and use more of his lower body if you ask me.
Thomas currently has the fifth-best betting odds to repeat as champion while at Bellerive, with the odds set at +1500. He’s certainly a fan favorite, especially in St. Louis after his eventful trip to the Gateway City.
A Plethora Of Talented Young-Guns
Boy, the PGA Tour is loaded with young talent. Sure, it’s nice having Woods and Phil Mickelson back at it again, but the amount of young golfers that already have an impressive resumé is unreal.
You have the “Spring Break Bros” comprised of Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman who make us all jealous of their lives:
The saddest part about that is you know all four of them messed around in the Bahamas and shot a casual 65.
Regardless of their spring break antics, the four of them and other close friend Brooks Koepka (28 years old & 2017 U.S. Open champion) are some of the most talented golfers around.
Spieth, 24, has already won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. The only major left for the career Grand Slam? The PGA Championship. That’ll certainly be on Spieth’s mind as he plays at Bellerive, as he looks for a special moment.
Fowler, 29, burst onto the PGA Tour scene because of his vibrant, all-orange Sunday outfits honoring his alma mater Oklahoma State. The seventh-ranked golfer is quickly becoming known for something else, though: the best player without a Major Championship victory. If Fowler doesn’t get it done at the U.S. or British Opens, that will definitely be a storyline many will be looking at as the 100th PGA Championship inches closer.
Although not quite as young as the Spring Break Bros, World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (33) is just hitting his prime, and it’s terrifying.
Before Fowler, Johnson was dubbed as the best player to never win a major, but overcame a blow-up in the 2010 U.S. Open, a bunker-debacle at the 2010 PGA Championship, and other close-calls as he finally won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
Johnson woos the crowd with his drives that consistently travel far more than 300 yards, but he makes his money around the greens, ranking eighth in scrambling and in the top-20 in strokes gained while putting.
He’s the most exciting player in golf right now and will certainly be someone to keep an eye on at Bellerive.
I can’t forget about Rory McIlroy (29), though. Over-confident Rory is back and boy is it fun to watch. He’ll pump drives 350+ yards and drain 40-foot putts like it’s nothng, all with an “I’m better than you and I know it,” look.
If the four-time major champion gets it going with a low first round, he could run away with his third PGA Championship since 2012.
Regardless of what storyline you’re most excited for in the 2018 PGA Championship, there’s no doubt in my mind this will be one for the books. I can’t wait for August 9th.