Illini 4-Peat, Guthrie Repeats at Big Ten Championships
April 29, 2012
FRENCH LICK, Ind. - Illinois (+23) captured its school-record fourth consecutive and 11th total Big Ten title on Sunday, completing the fourth four-peat in Big Ten history with a thrilling finish over Indiana (+26) at the Pete Dye Course. Senior Luke Guthrie (-5) won Big Ten medalist honors for the second year in a row, making him the third repeat conference champion in school history and first at Illinois since Steve Stricker (1988-89). A chip-in eagle by redshirt junior Mason Jacobs and a 20-foot birdie putt by sophomore Thomas Pieters sealed the comeback victory after the Illini fell behind the Hoosiers down the stretch.
"It was a total team effort, and it sure feels good to win four of these," head coach Mike Small said. "Indiana put up a great fight today. We were down with a couple holes to go, but to have your team make an eagle and a birdie on the last hole is pretty impressive. My hats off to Mason on the way he played those last nine holes. He got up and down from some miraculous places and then chips in for eagle on the last hole, which was the key to the tournament."
Illinois trailed Indiana by three strokes with Guthrie, Pieters and Jacobs heading into the final three holes. Jacobs drained a 40-foot chip out of the rough on No. 18 to get the Orange and Blue back within one, while an IU triple bogey on No. 17 put the Illini back in front by two. Pieters then rolled in a birdie on his final hole to give Illinois a cushion heading into the last hole, where Guthrie two-putted for par to clinch the win and become the first Illinois golfer to win four Big Ten rings.
"It's a great feeling to be a part of Illinois history," Guthrie said. "When I came in as a freshman, it was definitely a dream to have four rings leaving here and after a lot of hard work, it's finally happened. Indiana came out strong, but we kept plugging away. I was proud of the way we finished as a team with Mason getting the eagle and Thomas with the birdie. That's Illinois golf, finishing strong."
Entering the final round, the Illini held a seven-stroke lead over Indiana, which fired the low round of the day at 287 (-1). Illinois carded the second-lowest round on Sunday to finish with a 72-hole total of 1175, three shots in front of IU (1178). The three-shot win equaled the slimmest margin of victory at the conference championships since 1999 and was the closest of Illinois' 11 total titles.
"We showed some perseverance and had some good fortune too," Small said. "We played really good golf for four days. The score we shot on this course was a lot lower than I thought it would be."
Guthrie closed with a final round 73 to win the conference crown by four shots over Northwestern's Sam Chien (-1) with a career-low 72-hole total of 283 (-5), giving Illinois its 14th individual champion in program history. The Quincy, Ill., native is the Big Ten's first back-to-back champion since Northwestern's Luke Donald in 2000-01. It marked his seventh career collegiate victory, third win this season and the second week in a row he claimed the top spot after taking medalist honors at last week's Boilermaker Invitational. He also was named to the All-Championship team and earned the Les Bolstad Award for low season stroke average (70.90) in the Big Ten.
"Luke's goal back in August was to get a fourth Big Ten ring, and he earned that today," Small said. "He deserves that because he works hard and has leadership qualities that will be sorely missed next year."
Pieters turned in the low round by an Illini on Sunday with a 71 to tie for fifth at 293 (+5), which also placed him on the All-Championship team for a top-five finish. Freshman Brian Campbell, who closed with a final round 74, tied for 15th at his first conference championship with a 72-hole total of 299 (+11). Jacobs had his best Big Ten finish, tying for 21st at 302 (+14) following a fourth round 73, which was capped off by the clutch eagle chip-in. Freshman Alex Burge tied for 47th at 314 (+26) at his first Big Ten Championship.
Illinois became just the third school in Big Ten history to pull off a four-peat, joining Michigan (1933-36) and Ohio State (1976-80 & 1982-87) in the elite club. It also was the second four-peat at Illinois this year, as the national champion men's gymnastics team won a fourth straight Big Ten title in 2012. The Illini also earned the conference's automatic bid into NCAA Regionals, marking the Illini's fifth straight regional berth.
"The way we finished this thing off will be a big bonus for us going forward," Small said. "We need to continue to work though because we have a three-prong approach to the postseason with Big Tens, Regionals and Nationals, so we want to build momentum through all three. This was a good start."
NCAA Regional selections will be announced on Monday, May 7. The Illini will compete at regionals from May 17-19 for a shot at advancing to the NCAA Championships, which will take place from May 29-June 3 in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
"This is the just the first leg of the championship season," Guthrie said. "We have regionals coming up, so we are going to go try to win that and move on to nationals where anything can happen once you get there. It's an exciting time."
A tape-delayed broadcast of the 2012 Big Ten Championships will be aired by the Big Ten Network on Sunday, May 13 at 9 a.m. CT.
Big Ten Championships Final Results