The final major of 2018 is at hand, and we've already had an intriguing set of major championship winners thus far. Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari might not have been at the top of anybody's list of either "most likely major winners" or "most rooted for major winners," but here we are 216 holes into the major season, and those are your three champions.
With another major, though, comes another opportunity for somebody new to either win their first (or maybe their 15th), and that's an exciting proposition. So let's rank the top nine for this week's 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive in terms of the easiest stories to get behind for a potential champ.
1. Tiger Woods: After nearly a full season of grinding, Woods is still looking for his first victory since summer 2013. Maybe you simply hate him and can never (and will never) root for the red and black, but to me a 42-year-old Woods who seems far more human than ever is much easier to back than ever before. And it's undeniable that the three and a half minutes that he led The Open alone were the most fun three and a half minutes we've had all season.
2. Rickie Fowler: He's the easiest to root for of the large swath still looking for major championship No. 1. He also might be the most confounding. Fowler is coming in off a WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in which he shot 63-74-65-73.
3. Jordan Spieth: He's the only player in the field who could finish off the grand slam this week. What more could the PGA Championship ask for in its final run as the last major of the season than Spieth hitting the career slam in the 100th edition of this event at the same course where Gary Player won the career slam at the 1965 U.S. Open.
4. Tommy Fleetwood: After his heartbreak at Shinnecock and great showing for a few days at the Open Championship, he feels like maybe the most due of the no-major club other than possibly Fowler. Maybe folks on this side of the pond aren't as aware of Fleetwood, his hair, his filthy swing and his sublime accent as others, but trust me when I say you won't be disappointed if he wins.
5. Rory McIlroy: Only 19 human beings have ever won five or more majors in sports history. Three of those did so primarily at The Open before The Open was The Open. For McIlroy to join this list of golfers before turning 30 would be outrageous (and a lot of fun).
6. Justin Thomas: Oh, you hate young American dominance in a Ryder Cup year? Then you probably shouldn't get behind somebody going for his second straight PGA Championship.
7. Phil Mickelson: He's all the way up to 100-1 to win this week and quietly only has one top 10 at a major in the last three years. I'm not going to say a win here would be out of nowhere -- because he does have a win this season already -- but it would certainly be unexpected. Also, he might do the worm on the 72nd green if he pulls it off.
8. Matt Kuchar: Possibly the most likable man in golf finally scoring his first major at the age of 40 would be pretty awesome. I think the idea of sportswriters not rooting is a little bit archaic. If Kuchar is in it coming home on Sunday, I'll be rooting (quietly, but rooting nonetheless).
9. Xander Schauffele or Tony Finau: Speaking of young American dominance, this duo has combined for five top 10s in majors so far this year. If either one wins, it probably means a ticket to the Ryder Cup. They're both quiet, fun possible stars with loads of talent.
So, who will win the 2018 PGA Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to find out and see the full PGA Championship projected leaderboard from the model that has nailed four of the last seven majors heading into the weekend and was all over Tiger Woods' surprising run at the The Open Championship.