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What you need to know as golf season really tees off

CBC Sports' daily newsletter previews the PGA Championship and the start of a busy stretch for golf. Plus, the Leafs lose a man and the Marlins make like a sports movie.

The first major of the year starts Thursday, then there's no slowing down

26-year-old Bryson DeChambeau of the United States plays a drive from the 14th tee of the Charles Schwab Challenge on June 13. DeChambeau exited golf's pandemic-induced pause weighing a beefed up 240 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame. He'll be in the field at TPC Harding Park for the 2020 PGA Championship. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The first golf major of the year tees off Thursday

If you're confused, you're not alone. Traditionally, the PGA Championship was the fourth and final men's major of the season. Last year, it was moved to second — between the Masters and the U.S. Open. This year, with the golf calendar scrambled by the pandemic, it has the honour of going first.

The tournament tees off Thursday at 10 a.m. ET at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, where there will be no spectators. Here are some of the players and storylines to watch as the reconfigured golf season heads into its most interesting stretch:

Brooks Koepka is going for his third consecutive PGA Championship title. No one has pulled that off since Walter Hagen won four in a row in the 1920s, back when this was a match-play event. Koepka won four majors over the last three years. He's the only golfer with multiple titles in that span. The 30-year-old American is favoured by oddsmakers to win the PGA again, even though he's been up and down since the tour resumed in mid-June. In six tournaments, he has as many missed cuts (two) as top-10 finishes. But Koepka tends to save his best for the majors, and it looks like he's peaking at the right time again after finishing tied for second at last week's St. Jude Invitational.

Justin Thomas is back on top. His three-shot victory over a strong field at the St. Jude propelled him into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for the first time in more than two years, leapfrogging Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. The 27-year-old American is past the wrist injury that spoiled his 2019 season, and he's the last non-Koepka guy to win the PGA. Thomas' 2017 victory remains his only major title.

Bryson DeChambeau beefed up. He's never cracked the top 14 at a major, but Dechambeau is following the buff Koepka's blueprint for how to muscle your way into golf's top tier — literally. Bryson hit the weightroom hard and came out of the pandemic-induced pause weighing a linebacker-like 240 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame. The results speak for themselves: the 26-year-old American leads the tour in average driving distance (a monstrous 324.4 yards) after finishing 34th last year. Pair that with a hot putter (he ranks sixth in strokes gained putting) and you can understand how DeChambeau reeled off four straight top-eight finishes coming out of the break. He's cooled off lately, though, missing the cut and placing 30th in his last two events.

Speaking of jacked golfers, Tiger Woods remains the most interesting man in the sport. There was a lot of talk of Tiger being "back" last year after he snapped an 11-year major-championship drought with his monumental victory at the Masters. But he went on to miss the cut at two of the other three majors and finished tied for 21st at the other. Thrilling as that green jacket was, the reality is that Woods is a 44-year-old with a bad back that forces him to play a limited schedule. Apart from that exhibition match with Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he didn't play a competitive tournament from mid-February until mid-July, when he tied for 40th at the Memorial. Tiger took the last two weeks off to rest up for a run at his fifth PGA Championship title, and his first since 2007. If he's in the hunt on Sunday, the final round becomes must-see TV.

There's a strong Canadian contingent. All four in the field are ranked in the top 100 in the world: Adam Hadwin (60), Corey Conners (65), Mackenzie Hughes (74) and Nick Taylor (100). Conners looks like the guy to watch this week. Harding Park favours big hitters, and while Conners is middle-of-the-pack in terms of average driving distance, he ranks 14th in the more-refined stat of strokes gained off the tee, and 17th in strokes gained tee to green. Those numbers suggest an elite ball-striker. Conners just has to putt better: the Listowel, Ont., native is 184th in strokes gained putting.

The PGA Championship kicks off a stretch of big tournaments. The FedEX Cup playoffs start next week (yes, already!) and continue every week until the champion is crowned on Labour Day at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. In a normal year, many of the top golfers would cool off for a few weeks after that. Instead, the second major of the year, the U.S. Open, tees off Sept. 17 — just 10 days after the Tour Championship ends. The Masters starts Nov. 11. The British Open was cancelled for the year. The Ryder Cup was postponed to September 2021.

Women's golf is heating up too. The LPGA Tour returned from a 5½-month hiatus last week with the LPGA Drive On Championship in Ohio. American Danielle Kang won it and is now the world's second-ranked player. One of the five majors was lost when the Evian Championship in France was cancelled due to the pandemic. But the Women's British Open is still a go for Aug. 20-23, followed by the three U.S.-based majors: the ANA Inspiration tees off Sept. 10, the Women's PGA Championship Oct. 8 and the U.S. Women's Open Dec. 10. Canadian star Brooke Henderson, who's ranked seventh in the world, plans to compete in all four majors but is skipping the first three tournaments of the restart.

Corey Conners plays a tee shot during the third round of the World Golf Championship at TPC Southwind on Saturday. The Listowel, Ont., native is among a strong Canadian contingent heading into play at the PGA Championship on Thursday. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Quickly...

The Leafs lost Jake Muzzin for the rest of their series vs. Columbus. The defenceman was taken off on a stretcher after being cross-checked and falling head-first into a Blue Jackets player during Toronto's 3-0 win yesterday, which evened the best-of-five series at one game each. Muzzin was brought to a hospital in Toronto for evaluation. The Leafs said today that he was discharged overnight but is out for the series "as a result of his injury." The team also said Muzzin is in quarantine at the team hotel (NHL rules say he has to do this because his trip to the hospital took him outside the "bubble") and will "look to rejoin his teammates upon recovery." Read more about Muzzin's injury and see how it happened here.

Carolina is the first NHL team to advance. The Hurricanes completed a sweep of their best-of-five qualifying-round series vs. the Rangers last night to move on to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff field. Their next opponent will be one of the teams playing in the Eastern Conference round-robin, which involves the top four seeds. The New York Islanders had a chance to join Carolina in the round of 16 this afternoon, but Florida avoided the sweep with a 3-2 win. Today's schedule includes three crucial Game 3s in series that are tied at one win apiece: Nashville vs. Arizona at 2:30 p.m. ET, Pittsburgh vs. Montreal at 8 p.m. ET and Edmonton vs. Chicago at 10:30 p.m. ET. Oh, and if you wondered what would happen to hockey's traditional post-series handshakes in the COVID-19 era, we got the answer after Carolina closed out the Rangers: they've been replaced by fist bumps with gloves on. See how that looked and get a fast, fun rundown of what happened last night in Rob Pizzo's 2-minute NHL playoff recap.

There's a do-or-die game tonight in the Canadian Elite Basketball League. Six of the seven teams in the Summer Series tournament advance to the single-elimination stage. Only two haven't clinched a spot yet, and as luck would have it they play each other in tonight's round-robin finale. So it's simple: the winner of the Saskatchewan Rattlers vs. Ottawa Blackjacks game advances to the quarter-finals, and the loser is out. Tip-off time is 7:30 p.m. ET and you can watch live here or on the CBC Sports app or the CBC Gem streaming service. Before that, you can catch the 5 p.m. ET matchup between the Fraser Valley Bandits and the Guelph Nighthawks, who have both secured playoff spots already.

The semifinals of the MLS is Back tournament start tonight. On this side of the border, a lot of the air went out of the tournament when all three Canadian teams — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — were eliminated in the round of 16. But for those still into it, tonight's semifinal pits Philadelphia vs. Portland at 8 p.m. ET. Tomorrow night it's Orlando vs. Minnesota at the same time. The championship final is next Tuesday night. Orlando is coming into the semis hot after upsetting tournament favourite Los Angeles FC on penalty kicks in the quarter-finals.

And finally...

The Miami Marlins got so desperate for players that they added an ex-Olympic speed skater.

The team's recent coronavirus outbreak resulted in 17 players being taken out of action and another opting out of the season. To replace them, the Marlins were allowed to add 18 new players to their 30-man roster. Two of the pitchers are both named Josh Smith. Infielder Eddy Alvarez is a 30-year-old from Miami with no big-league experience. He won a silver medal in the men's short track speed skating relay event at the 2014 Winter Olympics before focusing on baseball.

This sounds like the plot of Major League. And free money for gamblers. How could a ragtag squad like this have any hope of beating a real major-league team? And yet, in their first game back from a week-long layoff caused by the outbreak, the Marlins beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-0 last night.

Even funnier: Miami leads its division. The Marlins have played only about a third of the games most other teams have, but the standings go by winning percentage, so Miami's 3-1 record puts it atop the National League East. Only in baseball. Read more about the Marlins' bizarre situation here.

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