PGA Championship 2018 preview: Justin Thomas ready to defend title after win at Firestone

The PGA Championship celebrates its 100th birthday this week, as the season’s final major looks to unearth the next budding star.

Last year, Justin Thomas emerged with his first major championship win. He held off Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed — who both earned their first majors this year — with a spirited final round at Quail Hollow Club.

Jordan Spieth has endured a tough season, but he has the chance to complete his career Grand Slam, which would make him the second-youngest to accomplish the feat behind Tiger Woods.

Course

Bellerive Country Club, a 7,317-yard par 70 hosts its third major championship. Located in the suburbs of St. Louis, Bellerive was once set to host the WGC American Express Championship in 2001. Unfortunately, the tournament never started following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

This beautiful course has plenty of water in play, so it will be imperative for players to hit accurate approach shots. The first three holes all offer birdie opportunities for a quick start, but are also dangerous with water guarding the second and third greens.

Defending Champion

Thomas shot a 3-under 68 in the final round last year to survive a crowded leaderboard and hoist the Wanamaker Trophy. Thomas trailed Hideki Matsuyama by two as he made the turn, but birdied the 10th with a putt that hung on the lip for close to 10 seconds before falling. A chip-in birdie at No.13 really put him in charge.

Favorites

Dustin Johnson, ranked No. 1 in the world, won the Canadian Open two weeks ago and followed it up with a t-3 last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Johnson has been on another level for the past three years, and with his improved wedge game, he should be able to master all of Bellerive’s puzzles.

Rory McIlroy and Jason Day were both playing well last week before Sunday struggles. McIlroy has a win and three runners-up finishes worldwide this season. He hasn’t won a major since the PGA Championship in 2014, so he’s due.

Brooks Koepka hasn’t played much this season due to a wrist injury this spring, but he has a win at the U.S. Open and a fifth-place finish last week. He looks poised to rack up majors, and he could find his third this week.

Sleepers

Kyle Stanley finished runner-up last week, despite some shocking putting form. If he can fix the yips he displayed at Firestone, he’s hitting the ball well enough to win a major.

Tyrrell Hatton and Patrick Cantlay have both enjoyed solid season (Hatton in Europe). While neither has had much experience contending in majors, Hatton finished t-6 at the U.S. Open this year, and Cantlay finished t-12 at the Open Championship.