Chris DeForest shot a team-best 72 Sunday en route to a 10th place finish.
April 27, 2008
East Lansing, Mich. -
Illinois Head Coach Mike Small looks back on this weekend's Big Ten Championship with mixed emotions. Illinois surprised the field, which included two top-25 teams, by leading the tournament after 36 holes. When the dust had cleared and wind died down after several twists and turns in the next 48 hours, the Illini posted a respectable third. With four players participating in their first Big Ten Tournament, the Illini put three players, two freshmen and a sophomore, in the top ten individually.
Freshman Scott Langley finished fourth individually and was steady for the most part, posting two eagles in the tournament, including on the 17th of the fourth round. Langley shot 77 in Sunday's fourth-round, but used a 72-69-71 start to finish at one-over par 289.
"For a freshman to finish fourth in this environment is a huge accomplishment," Small said. "He has been playing well all spring, but I think he turned some heads with his performance this weekend. With his work ethic, his future is bright."
Third round leader and host Michigan State, held on for a four-stroke victory at +21 (1173) despite a +13 301 on Sunday. Minnesota (1177) finished second at +25 after shooting 293 with Illinois third at +30 (1182). Indiana's Jorge Campillo was the individual medalist at -10, wining by two strokes over Michigan State's Ryan Brehm (-8) after firing a final round 67. Bill Rankin of Michigan was third at -3.
For the second straight day, Illinois used a late charge to move up a place. The Illini played the final three holes at four-under par to edge 24th-ranked Indiana (1183, +31) by one stroke. Michigan (1194) rounded out the top five at +42.
Illinois entered the day in second place at +19, 11 strokes behind the Spartans, but the sixth and seventh holes bit the Illini players, ending any realistic shot at a come-from-behind victory. The five Illinois players were a combined +10 on those two holes.
"It was tough being a coach for a time out there," Small said. "I really felt for our players in how those two holes came up and bit everyone. It was like an epidemic. The bottom line, though, was a team with two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior that finished just nine strokes behind the host school over 72 holes. There are certainly a lot of positives we can take for the weekend."
It was another freshman, Chris DeForest, and a sophomore Matt Hoffman, who made the biggest charges on the day for Illinois. DeFore,st had four birdies on the back nine to shoot even par 72 in round four while Hoffman fired a 73. Hoffman and DeForest finished in a tie for 10th at +9 (297) after playing the par 5s at -7 and -6, respectively, for the weekend. Sophomore Zach Barlow finished in a tie for 35th at +19, while junior Larry Blatt was 46th at +26.
"All five of our players are back next year," Small noted. "This experience is only going to help us as we go forward."
Small is already looking forward where the Illini seem primed for their first NCAA Regional bid in four years. Those bids will be released May 5. The All-Big Ten and All-Freshmen teams will be announced on Tuesday.