The 2018 PGA Championship is here and for the final time, we’re closing the golf major calendar with this event. Next year, the PGA will be played in May. But its final August hurrah shapes up to be a good one.
There are many great stories to follow through the week. There are also many questions to be asked and, eventually, to be answered.
Guys like Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas Francesco Molinari, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Patrick Reed, and Brooks Koepka all enter as some of the best players in the world. But all of them have question marks hanging over their heads.
Of course, in the midst of his comeback, Tiger Woods has at least one burning question he needs to answer.
Our host venue, Bellerive, is relatively foreign to most of these players. Some of the most pressing questions of the week revolve around it.
With the major championship season coming to an end, these are the burning questions to ask as we head into the 2018 PGA Championship.
Can Francesco Molinari continue his historic summer?
Only a handful of golfers have won multiple majors in a season, while only Walter Hagen, Nick Price, Woods (twice), Padraig Harrington, and McIlroy have won the British and PGA in the same year. But Molinari’s year has an even more historic feeling to it. He’s won three times since late-May (including the Open Championship) and posted two other second-place finishes in that stretch. Winning at Bellerive would be an exclamation point on what would be one of the best seasons in the history of the game.
What surprises will Bellerive have to offer?
Most major venues bring a certainly level of familiarity to them. But here we have an exception, and a pretty notable one, at that. Bellerive last hosted a tour event in 2008 and last played host to a major in 1992 (though the 2004 U.S. Senior Open and 2013 Senior PGA Championship were contested here). The golfers will certainly get a good look through the week during the practice rounds. But as they come down the stretch on the weekend, these pros will likely be looking at pin locations they’ve never seen before, creating an extra sense of intrigue.
Will we get another major breakthrough?
Following Molinari’s win at the British Open, 10 of the last 12 major champions have culminated with first-time winners. Also, since 2009, McIlroy (2012 and 2014) is the only PGA Champion to have already won a major. There are plenty of worthy breakthrough candidates heading to Bellerive. In the top-20 alone, we have Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, and Xander Schauffele all looking for their first majors.
Can Dustin Johnson solidify himself as the world’s best?
While he briefly lost his spot as the world’s top-ranked player in 2018, Johnson regained it in relatively short order. By and large, he’s played like the world’s best, winning three times this year. But while he did finish T-10 at the Masters and third at the U.S. Open, the majors have been a little more disappointing. Shinnecock Hills was particularly frustrating, with Johnson taking a good lead into the weekend only to come back to the field. A win at the PGA for his second career major would be a big step towards forgetting that and would certainly validate DJ as the best in the world.
Can Rory McIlroy take his season to next level?
It’s been a good year for McIlroy. He won at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, ending what was, by his standards, a relatively long winless drought. But it’s also been something of a frustrating year for the former No. 1-ranked player in the world. He’s had a string of near misses, including at both the Masters and Open Championship. A second win would bring the season to another level. If that second win comes in the form of a third career PGA Championship, it gets even better.
Will Justin Rose’s consistent year get better?
It would be quite challenging to find a golfer who can match Rose’s consistency over the last year. His last missed cut came at last season’s PGA Championship. In 13 2018 starts, Rose has only one win, but he has eight top-10s. Included in that was a T-10 at the U.S. Open and a T-2 at the British Open. At the Masters, Rose finished T-12. So, he’s clearly figured out how to consistently compete at these events. If Rose can win at Bellerive, he’ll put a nice bow on what’s already been one of the most consistent seasons of golf that we’ve seen in a while.
Who will make the Ryder Cup push?
The 2018 Ryder Cup is one of the more anticipated in recent memory. A number of golfers are still trying to make that last run to France. On the American side, big names like Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffle, Tony Finau, and Matt Kuchar are not automatically qualified. The European side also has big-name stalwarts like Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, and Henrik Stenson. All enter Bellerive looking to improve their standings, or be left hoping for a captain’s pick from Jim Furyk or Thomas Bjørn.
Can Patrick Reed build momentum as we move towards the Ryder Cup?
While the American Ryder Cup team has many spots to be determined, Reed will be there. But the way things are currently going, he won’t necessarily head to France at his best. Reed won the Masters and nearly won the U.S. Open, finishing fourth. In five tournaments since, however, Reed has a missed cut and only one top-10 finish. His past history at the Ryder Cup says that Reed’s game in France will be strong. Still, the recent trends point to some room for improvement. Should Reed win, he’d join Sam Snead, Jack Burke Jr., Jack and Nicklaus (twice) as the only men to win the Masters and PGA in the same year.
Can Tony Finau build off of stellar major season?
Finau’s major season got off on the wrong foot at the Masters’ Par-3 Contest. But he’s actually been one of the season’s best players at the biggest events. Finau finished T-10 at Augusta, solo fifth at Shinnecock Hills, and T-9 at Carnoustie. It’s a solid run from a guy who’s still relatively new to major championship golf. If Finau has a good week at Bellerive, even if he doesn’t quite win, he’ll be one of the season’s best players in the majors. That will definitely make the 28-year-old someone to watch closely in the future.
Will Jason Day rediscover his major mojo?
Day has only a single major victory to his name. Not too long ago, though, Day contending in a major was about as safe a bet as could be made in golf. Over the last two years, though, he’s struggled. In 2018, he sandwiched a missed cut at the U.S. Open with a T-20 at Augusta and a T-17 at Augusta. Mind you, those aren’t awful finishes. But this is a guy with 14 top-10 finishes at majors in his career. He’s won twice on tour in 2018. At least contending in a major would put a great stamp on what’s been a good comeback season for Day.
Will Brooks Koepka continue his climb up the world rankings?
Koepka made history at the 2018 U.S. Open, being the first man in nearly 30 years to repeat. That win moved him up to the No. 4-ranked player in the world, a ranking he’s held ever since. Koepka has never been ranked any higher than No. 4, although he certainly has the talent. A win at the PGA would be a big step in moving him even closer to reaching his potential. Like Reed and Molinari, he has a chance to be one of a very small group of golfers to win multiple majors in one season. Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus, and Woods are the only men to win the U.S. Open and PGA in the same year.
Will this turn into another U.S. Open disaster?
While Bellerive is a relatively new venue for most of these players, something about it could be familiar, and not in a good way. A particularly hot Midwest summer has left the greens at Bellerive quite dry. It’s going to be very hard to keep those in playable shape as the week goes on. We saw this at Shinnecock Hills and it was quite controversial, to say the least. It’s going to take a great effort from the PGA, as well as Bellerive’s groundskeepers, to stay on top of this and find the right balance between challenging and unplayable.
Will Tiger Woods build off of strong British Open?
Tiger ultimately fell short at Carnoustie, finishing T-6. But for a brief moment on Sunday, he held the lead by himself on the back nine. That was a big step for Woods. As positive as his 2018 comeback had been, Tiger’s performances at the Masters and especially the U.S. Open left a lot to be desired. We now know that he can compete in a major. Now, can he do it again? Competing a Bellerive would be a gigantic step forward for Tiger. In fact, given that Bellerive is a long course that Tiger hasn’t played in 17 years, it would be an even bigger step forward than competing at Carnoustie was.
Can Justin Thomas pull off rare double?
Ranked No. 2 in the world, Thomas is one of the best in the world. Having won at Firestone, he’s also one of the world’s hottest. A win at Bellerive would be historic. Thomas broke through with his first major triumph at the 2017 PGA Championship. If he wins at Bellerive, he’ll join Jim Barnes, Hagen, Sarazen, Leo Diegel, Denny Shute, and Woods as the only men to win consecutive PGA Championships. Woods, who did it twice, is the only man to do so since the PGA became a stroke play tournament in 1958. Thomas can change that with a win this week.
Can Jordan Spieth do what Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson couldn’t?
Sarazen, Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus, and Woods. It’s a quintet that we’ve heard a lot this season because for the third time in 2018, a golfer has a chance to join those five as the only men to accomplish a modern career grand slam. Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson fell short at the Masters and U.S. Open, respectively. At the PGA Championship, Spieth takes aim. A win from Spieth would not only complete the career grand slam, but it would be his first win on the year. It would also put an unquestioned positive spin on a year where Spieth has not been at his best.