The Majors 101: Where they are, when they are and what the top storylines will be

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It's never too early to start speculating about the 2018 major championships. Here's a closer look at all four majors.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Friday, January 05, 2018 | 10:29 a.m.

If you're a fan of professional golf, is there anything better than speculating about how the majors will unfold? Aside from actually watching those majors play out, I don't think so.

The first major championship of the 2017-18 season tees off with the Masters on Thursday, April 5.

Here's a closer look at the 2018 major championship venues, when they are and what we're guessing the top storylines will be.

The Masters, Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga., April 5-8, 2018

The venue: The same as it's been since this tournament began in 1934 -- the immaculate Augusta National Golf Club. The beauty of this jewel is that there are typically numerous changes made from year to year to the grounds, be it the course, the practice facility, or new buildings, yet each April when you arrive it looks as though those changes had been in place for years and years.

Because the Masters is held at the same place every year, experience is typically a huge plus.

While Augusta National has become considerably longer through the years, it's still not uncommon to see older players -- specifically "past champions" -- make a run during tournament week. We've seen this from Jack Nicklaus in 1998 (T6), Fred Couples (top-20 finishes from 2010-2014) seemingly every time he tees it up there and Bernhard Langer in 2014 (T8) and Tom Watson (T18, 2010).

An adage that never gets old at Augusta National is, "the Masters doesn't start until the back nine on Sunday." That usually holds true. Just ask Jordan Spieth about No. 12 in 2016, which costs him a tournament he was in control of at the time; ask Rory McIlroy about the 10th hole disaster in 2011, where the television audience was treated to moving pictures of cabins they probably didn't even know existed on the property thanks to McIlroy's wayward tee shot; or, on the flip side, how about Charl Schwartzel's four consecutive birdies to close out a win in 2012; or Phil Mickelson's miraculous shot on No. 13 in 2010 that set up a birdie that allowed him to get some distance from the field? A lot can happen -- and has happened -- for better or worse on those final nine holes.

RELATED: Updated 2018 Masters field list | Most memorable major moments from 2017

Top storylines for 2018:

- This will be the first of three majors in 2018 where we could potentially see a career grand slam completed. For that to happen at the Masters, Rory McIlroy would have to slip into a green jacket on Sunday evening. He hasn't won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

- Will Tiger Woods play in the Masters for just the second time in five years and the first time since a T17 in 2015? If he does, what can we expect? Outside of a T40 in 2012 and that T17 in 2015, Woods has finished no worse than T9 in 10 Masters starts since his last win at Augusta National in 2005.

- Can Rory McIlroy win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla and, in so doing, complete the career grand slam?

- How will Sergio Garcia perform in his first turn as a defending champion in a major?

- Can PGA Champion Justin Thomas make it two major victories in a row?

The U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills, N.Y., June 14-17, 2018

The venue: For the fifth time in its history, Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., will play host to the national championship.

This Long Island gem claims to be the oldest formal organized golf club in the United States (1891), to have the oldest golf clubhouse in the U.S. (1892), and to have been the first to admit women, which it did from the start.

A breathtaking links-style course, Shinnecock hosted the second U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur championships contested in the year 1896.

Retief Goosen was the last player to win a U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. That happened in 2004, when he edged runner-up Phil Mickelson by two strokes.

Corey Pavin claimed his lone major in the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock when he hit a 4-wood for the ages on the final hole to secure a two-shot triumph over Greg Norman.

Top storylines for 2018:

- As is always the case in a U.S. Open, all eyes will be on Phil Mickelson. Lefty, who will turn 48 years old that week, has finished second on an agonizing, record six occasions in the U.S. Open. It's the lone major in which the 5-time major champ has yet to win. Therefore, just like McIlroy at the Masters, Mickelson will have the chance to complete the career grand slam at Shinnecock, where -- as we already mentioned -- he was a runner up in 2004. Mickelson also tied for fourth at Shinnecock in the 1995 U.S. Open.

- The last time the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock -- 2004 -- a big story from the week was how the greens got away from the USGA. It was as if the players were putting on glass on severely undulated green complexes. It got so bad, that on some holes, grounds workers needed to syringe the greens -- spray them with a light application of water -- as extreme heat was causing the closely mown surfaces to burn out. A lot of players weren't happy about that.

- Can the 2018 Masters champ -- whomever that is -- make it two major wins in a row?

- In the last two U.S. Opens, both Oakmont and Erin Hills were overpowered by bombers Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, respectively. Shinnecock doesn't seem like a place that can be overpowered, but then again, neither did Oakmont. Will the bombers feast on another U.S. Open venue for the third time in as many years?

The Open Championship, Carnoustie Golf Links, Angus, Scotland, July 19-22, 2018

The venue: Widely regarded as arguably the most difficult golf course in the world, Carnoustie should once again prove to be a stern test for the world's top golfers.

How difficult is it, you ask? Consider this: In 1999, Rod Pampling shot a 71 in the opening round to take the Round 1 lead. However, he shot an 86 in the second round to miss the cut.

Opened in 1850, Carnoustie sits along the North Sea. Therefore, the wind can be a serious factor. It's a course that requires more manufactured golf shots than probably any other on the 2018 major schedule -- par for the course for Open Championship venues.

Padraig Harrington edged Sergio Garcia in a playoff at the 2007 Open Championship held at Carnoustie. But, the venue that has hosted seven Open Championships previously is most well-known for what happened in the 1999 Open. That's where Frenchman Jean Van de Velde coughed up a three-stroke lead on the final hole and eventually lost in a playoff to Scotsman Paul Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Top storylines for 2018:

- With (at least) one Masters title under his belt, is Garcia an inspired, motivated man looking to improve one spot on his 2007 Open and claim that coveted Claret Jug?

- Luck of the draw always comes into play at the Open Championship. Which wave will be the lucky one?

- Only twice since 2010 -- Henrik Stenson in 2016 and Darren Clarke in 2011 -- have won the Open without previously winning a major. Both, obviously, were well established players and their wins weren't a huge surprise. That said, can a first-time major winner prevail at Carnoustie in 2018?

- More so than any other major, the Open Championship is capable of producing older winners. Could we see another run by the likes of a Phil Mickelson or an Ernie Els?

- Can Lee Westwood finally snag that first major title?

The PGA Championship, Bellerive Country Club, Town and Country, Missouri August 9-12, 2018

The venue: Bellerive hasn't hosted a major on the regular tour since the 1992 PGA Championship (it did host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2013, however). Not even Phil Mickelson was in the field that year!

For that reason, Bellerive might provide the most level playing field of the four majors since it will be "new" to many of the players in the field. The course did host the 2008 BMW Championship, where only the top-70 players in the FedExCup standings qualified with Camilo Villegas emerging as the winner, but the conditions should prove far different in August.

A long, long course at over 7,500 yards, one of the most distinct features on the course is the par-5 eighth, which boasts a rare double dogleg. It'll be interesting to see how the monster drivers approach the hole.

Top storylines for 2018:

- Which eight players will earn automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team at the conclusion of the PGA Championship?

- Will there be a surprise winner who sneaks into the top-8 of the Ryder Cup USA standings in the 12 hour?

- Can Jordan Spieth win, thus completing his career grand slam by securing a PGA Championship victory?

- It will be the last time the PGA Championship is played as the final major of the year, as the championship moves to the month of May in 2019.

- How much of a factor will the sure-to-be extreme heat play?

 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.