Men's Golf
Guthrie, Illini In Position for Big Finish

Luke Guthrie eyes his eagle putt on 18 Wednesday. He nailed it to finish his round of 69.
Luke Guthrie eyes his eagle putt on 18 Wednesday. He nailed it to finish his round of 69.

June 1, 2011

Stillwater, Okla. -

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There are few players in the field who came into the NCAA championship hotter than Illinois junior Luke Guthrie. The Quincy, Ill., native won his last three tournaments and in fact was the only golfer to win both his conference and regional individual titles. Now a year after his teammate Scott Langley won the national title, Guthrie is in the title hunt individually in 2011.

Guthrie finished his second round in impressive fashion with a birdie on 17 and an eagle on 18 for a three-under par 69. He'll enter the final stroke play round in a three-way tie for third at -3, two strokes in back of LSU's John Peterson, who is at -5 after shooting a course record 65 on Tuesday, and one stroke behind first round leader James White of Georgia Tech. UCLA's Patrick Cantlay and Georgia's Harris English also enter the final 18 holes at -3.

The one difference between Langley's run in 2010 and Guthrie's this year is the fact that Illinois is also in contention to qualify for the match play round as a team for the first time in school history and finish in the top 10 at the NCAA for the first time since 1950. The top eight teams at the end of Thursday's third round qualify for a single elimination match play tournament, which begins Friday morning and continues through Sunday, to determine the national champion.

The Illini put themselves in good position as a team, firing a one-under par 287, to move from a tie for fifth after round one to sole possession of third at +2 heading into Thursday. The Illini hold a 12-shot advantage over a tie for eighth in hopes of securing a top-eight position.

Illinois will play with leader Georgia Tech (-3) and second-place UCLA (-2) in the third round, teeing off from 1:10-1:50 pm. The rest of the top eight as it stands now includes Georgia (+3), Alabama (+4), top-ranked and host Oklahoma State (+9) defending national champion Augusta State (+12), Ohio State (+14) and Texas A&M (+14).

Illinois played steady most of the round, but a big finish brought the Illini from sixth to third. Sophomore Mason Jacobs and freshman Thomas Pieters each birdied the 551-yard par 18th. Playing a difficult pin placement on 17, Guthrie sent his approach to within 15 feet and dropped in a birdie putt, then went after the 18th. His second shot on 18 stuck at the lower fringe of the green. Using his putter, Guthrie maneuvered the break to perfection to drain the 35-footer in front of a large gallery.

"You want to make big putts on 18 because it gives the team a big boost," Guthrie said. "It was downwind par five. I knew that if I could just get it out there in the fairway, I could reach it. I hit a really good putt and it took the break and found the hole."

Guthrie played the first nine holes at -2 and the last two at -3 and overcame a couple of blips toward the middle of his round. The junior did so with a smart, yet aggressive approach.

"You have to go after this golf course or else it will eat you alive," Guthrie said. "You can make birdies, but you can also make big numbers. From that standpoint, it is an exciting golf course to play."

"I have total faith and confidence in Luke," Small said. "He's the ultimate competitor. That showed by the last two holes. We're in good hands with him at the end."

As far as his approach to Thursday's round with team and individual honors on the line, Guthrie said, "I want to get lost in the process and on every shot, give everything I've got. If I come out on top, I come out on top."

Illinois senior Chris DeForest is in the conversation individually as well. The Cottekill, N.Y., native shot his second straight even par 72 at the 7,416 Karsten Creek Golf Course, good for a tie for 14th.

"Chris drove it very well," Small said. "When he drives it like that, he's pretty good. To his credit, he's worked very hard at it. He wants to go out on a good note."

Jacobs matched DeForest's 72 and is in a tie for 29th at +2 in the 156-player field. Going back to the end of his first round, Jacobs has eight birdies in his last 22 holes. Pieters' 74 was the highest score Illinois had to count on the day. The collective team effort overcame a tough day for defending NCAA champion Scott Langley, who shot an uncharacteristic 86.

"That was an example of a true team atmosphere," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "We took care of business. Every day is it's own day and every shot's its own shot. You can't look back; you can't look forward. That's the approach we need to have tomorrow."