Matt Hoffman is tied for 18th at +5 heading into Saturday's final round.
May 16, 2008
Columbus, Ohio -
Illinois men's golfers completed final exams in the classroom last week. Now they are trying to pass their final on the course this week in Columbus, Ohio. In order to qualify for the NCAA Championships in two weeks, the Illini much finish in the top ten at this weekend's the NCAA Regional. After two of three rounds, Illinois sits third in the 27-team elite field.
"This is why you play all year - to qualify for the 30-team NCAA Championship," said Illinois coach Mike Small. "The teams are bunched up pretty good, so anything can happen, but we have put ourselves in good position to accomplish our ultimate goal."
Illinois will play Saturday in the top group, which includes the nation's top ranked team, Alabama, and the tournament leader, 22nd-ranked Wake Forest. Because of potential weather issues Saturday, the tee times will be inverted, meaning the lead group will tee off first - at 6 a.m. CDT.
Playing in the final pairing has become a habit for Illinois, who is doing so on the tournament's final day for the third straight time, all in big tournaments. Those include the Boilermaker Invitational, which brought a national caliber field to the NCAA Championship Kampen Course in West Lafayette, Ind., and at the Big Ten Championship in East Lansing. Mich.
"This week we're playing one of the hardest courses in college golf," Small noted. "It has bitten some of the top teams and individuals over the last two days, but our team has shown to be resilient."
Illinois entered play Friday in sixth place and moved up three spots after shooting eight-over par 292 on the par-71 Scarlet Course. Illinois' top four players each shot between 72 and 74, proving that consistency pays off. Following play Friday, the Illini are in front of five ranked teams, including two top-ten teams - Oklahoma State (5) and Florida (8).
The Illini began the day on two of the toughest holes on the course - 10 and 11 and managed eight pars between the five players. Freshman Scott Langley had three birdies in the first nine holes of the day en route to a 72. Langley is tied for 29th with sophomore teammate Zach Barlow at +6 (148).
Sophomore Matt Hoffman had the other 72 for the Illini with birdies on six, 16 and 18. Hoffman is tied with junior teammate Larry Blatt for 18th at +5 for the tournament. Blatt and Barlow each shot 74 for the day while freshman Chris DeForest shot 78.
Wake Forest holds a ten-stroke lead at +9 with Alabama sitting at +19 and Illinois and Penn State tied for third at +22. As Small said, there could be a lot of shuffling in Saturday's third and final round with a number teams bunched. Eastern Kentucky is fifth at +23 followed by 19th-ranked Texas A&M (+24), fifth-ranked Oklahoma State (+24), No. 8 Florida (+26) and Louisville (+26). Indiana and Kent State are tied for the 10th and final advancement spot at +29. The tournament will resolve all ties at the end of Saturday's round.
"It's amazing what this team has accomplished from not having a set line-up in the fall to competing against the nation's best," Small said. "You practice and train hard to play in these challenging situations. You have to have fun and enjoy the ride."