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    Illini face national field at Augusta State Invitational
    Thomas Pieters tied for second at the D.A. Weibring Invitational

    Thomas Pieters tied for second at the D.A. Weibring Invitational

    March 30, 2011

    Champaign, Ill. - No. 6 Illinois begins its stretch run toward major post-season tournaments this weekend in Augusta, Ga. The Illini will compete on four of the five weekends in April, culminating in the Big Ten Championship April 29-May 1 in West Lafayette, Ind.

    On deck is the Insperity Augusta State Invitational, an event that has grown in stature in recent years, partially because of the emergence of Augusta State as a national power and partially because of the move to the historic Forest Hills Golf Club. The host Jaguars are the defending NCAA champions, and they have attracted the most notable field in this event's 33-year history.

    Illinois faces top-ranked Oklahoma State for the third time this season. The last time the Illini and the Cowboys went head-to-head, OSU edged the Illini by six strokes at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational, an event won by Illinois' Luke Guthrie. In fact, the field features the top three teams nationally - No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Alabama and six ranked opponents in all, including No. 6 Illinois, No. 13 Augusta State, and No. 24 Washington. Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Houston, Lamar, South Carolina, USC-Aiken, Tennessee and Virginia Tech round out the field.

    "You can't play defense on your opponent," Illinois head coach Mike Small on the challenging foes this weekend. "What you can do is gauge yourself against some of the better teams. You have to be emotionally, mentally and physically ready to go on that first tee."

    What makes it unique among the elite tournaments this season is how low the scores have been at the ASU Invite. Augusta State won the team championship last year at -47 while the Jaguars' Henrik Norlander claimed the title individually at -15.

    "This is more of a birdie-type golf course where you have to be aggressive at times and use a lot more short irons," Small said. "Last year we didn't come into this tournament mentally prepared and we got lapped (finishing seventh out of 16 teams). Knowing what to expect this year is a big plus for us. It's going to take five guys that are on top of their game that aren't afraid to shoot low scores to win it."

    Illinois will play alongside Alabama and Washington in the first two rounds, which will have a 7:30 am CT shotgun start on Saturday and have continuous play through the afternoon. Teams will start Sunday's third and final round at either the first or 10th holes with tee times from 8 am-10:06 am CT. The Illinois line-up is the same as it has been most of the season - junior Luke Guthrie, seniors Scott Langley and Chris DeForest, freshman Thomas Pieters and sophomore Mason Jacobs.

    Live scoring will be available at golfstatresults.com.

    Illinois has won three of the five stroke-play events this year while finishing second in another. Next up is the Illini Classic April 16-17 at Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana, an event that will feature 10 of the 11 Big Ten teams.

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