PGA Championship 2018: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas among 10 biggest storylines at Bellerive

The 2018 PGA Championship is here, and we have an event overflowing with storylines. Everything from a single season often seems to converge upon the PGA Championship as it is the last major of the season (this year for the last time), and multiple players, stories and themes come to a head there as the season hurtles for the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup.

Bellerive Country Club is the host for the 100th edition of this event (streaming live all week on CBSSports.com). This will be its third major overall but its first since Nick Price took the PGA Championship in 1992. Prior to that, Gary Player won the U.S. Open there in 1965. Of the four majors this year, though, this one will probably be the least-discussed when it comes to the course, which means the focus will be on the players.

And boy do we have some compelling player storylines. Let's get to those as we look at the 10 most prominent heading into the final major of the year.

1. Tiger Woods returns: Big Cat is playing the PGA Championship for the first time since 2015 when he missed the cut at Whistling Straits. In fact, he hasn't made a cut at this tournament since 2013, and he hasn't finished in the top 10 since 2009! My concern for him is that his 42-year-old body is going to fade over the last six weeks or so of the season. I think we may have caught a glimpse of that on the weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he shot 73-73, and I'm not optimistic about what St. Louis in August is going to mean for his feels.

2. Jordan Spieth goes for the slam: Hey guys, remember the dude who is having the down year and not meeting everyone's expectations? Four good rounds at Bellerive, and he can become just the sixth golfer in history to touch off the career grand slam. He just turned 25. 

3. Ryder Cup implications: Nobody who needed won at Firestone, but guys like Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau and Kevin Kisner will get one final chance to win here and qualify for the team on points. Automatic qualifiers are cut off following this tournament, so a victory here could be doubly sweet for somebody as a first major championship victory as well as a ticket to Paris.

4. Rory McIlroy seems close: I'm on record as picking him for both the Bridgestone Invitational (which he did not win) and the PGA Championship this week. In his last nine stroke play events on the PGA Tour, he's had a win and six top 15s. He also has five top-eight finishes at PGA Championships. Add those two things up and throw in the fact that Bellerive is going to play soft and long, and you can see why I'm picking the four-time major winner this week.

5. Player of the Year race: It's kind of up in the air, right? There are a number of golfers -- Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy among them -- who could put their fingerprints on the trophy with a victory this week at Bellerive. I know it's not exactly the NBA MVP or anything like that, but I still pay attention to it and find the outcome compelling.

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.

6. Justin Thomas' defense: How tough is it to run it back at the PGA Championship the week after you won? Only two of the best of the modern era have done it. Thomas will have the challenge of not only defending his win last week at Firestone but also his win last year at Quail Hollow at the PGA. The last player to win two of these in a row is (you guessed it) Woods in 2006 and 2007.

7. First-time breakthrough? The list of golfers without major championships should be getting shorter, but instead it seems like it's getting deeper and possibly even better. Rickie Fowler is probably the headliner, but Schauffele, Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Paul Casey and Matt Kuchar are all still searching for major championship No. 1. To be honest, nobody would be surprised if any one of those guys won this week which should tell you everything you need to know about how good golf is at the highest level right now. 

We haven't even started talking about the guys with one major -- Johnson, Rose, Thomas, Day -- that could separate themselves from that group this week.

8. Big bombers course: I'm going to write more about this later in the week, but the smart people I talk to feel that a big bopper is going to take home the trophy this week. Bellerive plays to over 7,300 yards and should be soft. It feels right now like somebody who hits it 310 on the regular will end up hoisting that big ol' trophy on Sunday evening.

9. The Phil Mickelson conundrum: Lefty is such an enigma to me right now. He's nearing 50 and kind of (?) slowing down, it seems. He has one top 10 at a PGA since 2009 and doesn't have a top 10 on the PGA Tour since May. There's a reason he's 50-1 to win this week, and yet he remains one of the biggest draws of the week and somebody we'll look to to do something great (or possibly insane).

10. The finale: This is the last go around for the PGA Championship in August. Next year's move to Bethpage will happen in May, which is a good move for everyone involved (I think). Still, it has been the final major of the year for as long as I can remember, and it's going to be disconcerting for it to unfold between the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open. 

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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