Illini win sprint to Illini Invitational title
April 13, 2008
Urbana, Ill. -
Illinois entered Sunday's play at the Fighting Illini Spring Invitational knowing the team had some work to do to pull out a victory. The tournament, which was shortened from 54 holes to 36 holes, played its final nine holes Sunday morning at Stone Creek Golf Club.
The Illini were in second place by five strokes after the first round and a combined 10-over par for round two through the first nine holes, which were played Saturday. The Illini rallied to shoot a combined two-over par Sunday to win the tournament by seven strokes over second-place Southern Illinois. Individually, sophomore Matt Hoffman won the event at four-over par 148 after finishing his second round with a tournament-best 73.
Illinois wins its second straight tournament and third of the season. Hoffman joins teammates Scott Langley and Chris DeForest as individual medalists in 2007-08 as well. Hoffman has been consistent since cracking the Illinois line-up with four straight top-12 finishes. As a team, the Illini have put together an impressive spring that has included two firsts, a second and two third places in five events. The Illini play the national championship course next week at the Boilermaker Invitational and travel to the Big Ten Championships at Michigan State April 25-27.
"With Matt it has meant taking it one step at a time," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "He has improved a lot in the winter and the spring. He has high goals for himself. His focus and intensity has gone up and he's improved at a rapid rate. This is just another step in his progression."
Hoffman's teammates rose to the occasion Sunday. Freshman Scott Langley had a birdie on No. 12 and eight pars on Sunday to finish with a 74 in round two and tied for 11th overall individually at 10-over par 154. Sophomore Zach Barlow recovered from a tough first round to also shoot 74 in the second round, tying for 13th at 11-over par 155. Barlow had back-to-back birdies - on the 179-yard par-three 13th and the 384-yard par-four 14th and added six pars and a bogey Sunday to play his final nine holes at one-under par. Senior Mark Ogren also birdied 14 and finished with a pair of 79s to tie teammate Jon Krick at 24th in the 60-player field.
Southern Illinois (313-303) improved by 10 strokes from round one to finish second at 616. Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa tied for third at 620 followed by Illinois State and DePaul tied for fifth at 624 in the 11-team field.
First round leader, Cory Blenkush of DePaul shot 79 in round two to finish in a tie for seventh. Fellow Blue Demon Nick Martin (75-74) finished one stroke out of the lead at 149 followed by Illinois State's Ben Murphy (76-74-150).
Playing at home meant the Illini could enter the rest of the team as individuals and a pair of those - freshman Chris DeForest and junior Larry Blatt - tied for fourth at seven-over par 151 with identical rounds of 76-75. Frank Alafoginis tied Krick and Ogren for 24th at 158 while Champaign native Clayton Parkhill finished tied for 51st at 166.
"I'm taking a lot of positives from this tournament," Small said. "We knew going into today that we were behind with just a nine-hole sprint to play. For the guys to come out focused in knowing that and to take their game to another level shows a lot of maturity. They should take some confidence in what they accomplished."