COLUMBUS, Ohio – The No. 20 Fighting Illini men’s golf team posted a blistering pace over the final 11 holes of Saturday’s second round to build a seven shot lead heading into the Sunday’s finale at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate at Columbus Country Club.
As a team, the Illini opened with a 278 (-10) in Round 1 and sat three strokes behind host Ohio State as play rolled into Round 2. And after weathering a tough stretch that saw the five members of the Illini lineup shoot a combined plus-8 over the first seven holes of the round, the Orange and Blue rallied to combine for 22 birdies and an eagle (by freshman Jackson Buchanan) while posting just three bogeys over the final 11 holes of the day. The result was a team total of 275 in Round 2 – the lowest single round of the season for the Illini – which pushed Illinois into the pole position with 18 holes remaining in their final tournament of the regular-season before next week’s Big Ten Championship.
“The first six or seven holes of this golf course are the tough stretch, and we came out after the break – and having played a strong first round in my opinion – and we came out a little flat in the second round,” Head Coach Mike Small said. “Credit goes to the guys; we made them aware of the slow start and they turned it around. They put that slow start behind them and they finished very strong, which we really needed against a good Ohio State team on a golf course they know very well.If we don’t have that back nine of the second round, it would have been hard to come back tomorrow.Now, we’re in a position where we can try to expand on this lead, and continue to grow the habit of closing out tournaments. ”
Buchanan (69-68) was the only Illini to card back-to-back rounds in the 60s on Entering the day with just three such rounds in his young Collegiate career. The Dacula, Ga., Native also closed the Boilermaker Invitational with a 69 in the Illini’s last outing two weeksends ago, giving him a stretch of three consecutive competitive rounds in the 60s. He sits at 7-under in a tie for a second with a senior Adrien Dumont de Chassart.
“Jackson continues to learn, and improve and grow,” Small added. “We recruited him for this reason, because he is a very talented young player that needed to gain experience. He’s embracing the Illini golf mentality and learning the game as a very young, talented player, and it’s starting to show. He’s starting to apply. principles to the game – coupled with his athleticism and talent – that are giving him some good results. “
Dumont de Chassart, who was recently named to the Haskins Award watch list and tabbed to play in his second straight Arnold Palmer Cup, was the biggest mover for the Illini in the team’s late-second-round surge. He sat in 12th place after opening with a 2-under 70, but posted seven Round 2 birdies, including six over the final 11 holes, to jump 10 spots into a tie with Buchanan, just two shots behind individual leader Louis Olsakovsky of Penn State at 135 (- 9).
Senior Tommy Kuhl and junior Jerry Ji sit in ties for the fifth and 10th, respectively. Kuhl carded rounds of 69 and 70 to close the day at 5-under, while she shot back-to-back 70s to finish at 4-under. Sophomore Piercen Hunt rounded out the lineup for the Illini with scores of 70 and 72 to sit at 2-under in a tie for 16th, and junior Nico Lang – competing as an individual – is tied for 71st at 9-over.
As a team, the No. 20-ranked Illini are seven strokes ahead of No. 35 Ohio State (560). Penn State (566) is third, followed by No. 47 Northwestern (567) and Kent State (568) to round out the top five.
Round 3 is set to begin with tee times on Sunday starting at 7:30 am ET / 6:30 am CT. The Illini, paired with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will start on No. 1 beginning at 9:10 am ET / 8:10 am CT. Live scoring is available throughout the final round at Golfstat.com.
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