PGA Championship 2018: Why one of the long hitters on Tour will win this event

At over 7,300 yards, Bellerive, which hosts the 2018 PGA Championship, will be among the longest courses in this tournament's history. It is not a course that necessarily inspires a lot of high-level decision making like we just saw at Carnoustie. Mostly players will be funneled into the same shots, and whoever is the longest, straightest golfer -- like we just saw at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational -- should emerge with the Wanamaker.

In fact, if you look at the final top 10 at Firestone, that's probably going to be a lot of what you see this week at Bellerive, too. 

  • Justin Thomas
  • Kyle Stanley
  • Thorbjorn Olesen
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Aaron Wise
  • Anirban Lahiri
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Rory McIlroy
  • Tony Finau
  • Si Woo Kim
  • Ian Poulter
  • Jason Day

That's, yeah, that's pretty much what I expect the leaderboard to look like after 72 holes at Bellerive. Geoff Shackelford wrote a little bit about this after Justin Thomas took down his first WGC on Sunday.

Either way, the driving distances at the final WGC Bridgestone were even more staggering than the normally huge numbers posted there annually. Driven solely by incorporation of medicine balls that have built super-cores like the game has never seen before these tall...well some of them...strapping...some of them...super jocks hit the ball unthinkable distances at the 2018 WGC Bridgestone, averaging 318.3 yards off the tee as a field. 

Sub out "Bridgestone" for "PGA Championship," and I would imagine the same could be said this time next week. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It might just be a little bit different from, say, Carnoustie where there was considerable emphasis on not only being long but being able to make the correct decision, miss in the proper spot and work the ball both ways.

This is a pretty consistent theme with PGA Championship courses, and to see why I think a big hitter is going to win this year at Bellerive, all we have to do is revisit some of the other longest PGA Championship courses in recent memory. Four of the last six PGAs have played over 7,300 yards, and they've all been won by guys who are prodigious off the tee. 

  • 2017 -- Justin Thomas
  • 2015 -- Jason Day
  • 2014 -- Rory McIlroy
  • 2012 -- Rory McIlroy

Those golfers are three of the top 14 longest off the tee coming into this week at the PGA Championship. Again, this isn't a bad thing. It's just a reality of the type of courses the PGA of America chooses, and Bellerive fits the mold nicely. As Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg noted, it's a course that's softer than the Pillsbury Doughboy. That often eliminates shorter hitters in a way that links courses (or even Augusta National) doesn't.

It's also a course at which the greens have shrunk in recent years so in addition to being forever off the tee, you need to be a fairly accurate ball-striker as well.

So what does this mean for a potential winner? The hard part about all of this is differentiating between great players and simply big bombers. Often they are one and the same. McIlroy might be the longest driver in the world, and he also might be the best golfer. But what I think it does is allow big drivers a little farther down the odds sheet -- like Tony Finau at 40-1, Joaquin Niemann at 66-1, Gary Woodland at 100-1 and J.B. Holmes at 200-1 -- to potentially contend for this title.

Obviously Johnson, McIlroy, Koepka and Day are going to play well no matter if this tournament is played at Bellerive or on the moon. But the guy I'm circling as a potential sleeper, somebody who has three straight top 10s at majors, a top 10 last week at Firestone and could dominate this course in a big way is Finau. With a spot on the Ryder Cup team possibly up in the air, this would easily be the biggest and most important win of his career, and as the third-longest driver on the PGA Tour right now, it's pretty easy to envision him pulling it off.

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.

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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