ZIONSVILLE, IN (May 19, 2011) -- The top five teams in each of the six NCAA Regionals this weekend qualify for the NCAA Championships. Illinois head coach Mike Small has long held the belief that the best way to qualify is to set out to win it. In that regard, things are looking good for Small and the Illini through 18 of the 54 holes at the Wolf Run Regional. On a course prime for scoring, yet unforgiving at times, all five Illinois players shot even par or better giving the Illini the team lead at seven-under par 277.
"If you come here trying just to qualify, it will be rough on the bubble," Small said. "We've got a lot of golf to go, but we got off to a good start today."
Sophomore Mason Jacobs was the first player out for Illinois and set the tone with a pair of birdies in the first 10 holes to make it to -2. Jacobs finished his round at even par 71 after a birdie at 18, good for a tie for 18th individually.
"It's good for the guys to know that the first one's out there," Jacobs said on his role on Thursday. "It helps them stay confident and get off to a good round themselves."
"For him to get off the start he did out of the gates was pretty impressive," Small said.
Defending NCAA champion Scott Langley led the charge for the Illini, firing a first round three-under par 68, good for a seven-way tie for the lead individually. Langley's round included five birdies, two in the final five holes.
That tie for the lead also includes two players from both Alabama (Bud Cauley and Hunter Hamrick) and Michigan (Matt Thompson and Jack Schultz). The Crimson Tide, the top seed coming into the tournament, and ninth-seeded Michigan are both one stroke behind Illinois in a tie for second at six-under par 278. Stanford (284) and Iowa (285) round out the top five teams. The Illini are 10 strokes ahead of the transfer spot where Tennessee currently sits sixth at 287 (+3).
Big Ten champion Luke Guthrie of Illinois is one stroke out of the lead in a tie for eighth after a two-under par 69 while teammates senior Chris DeForest and freshman Thomas Pieters finished the day with a one under par 70, tied for 14th in the 75-man field.
"Everyone came out ready to play today," said Guthrie. "We methodically got under par. Nobody took it deep, but we just took care of our own business.
"This course was fair today," Small said. "When the wind comes out of the west like this, there are some holes you can score on."
"It's a tough golf course, but if you keep it in play, you get a lot of short irons in and can take advantage of some of these holes," Jacobs added. "You have to hit a lot of fairways and greens, and you'll have a lot of opportunities."The Illini will tee off with Alabama and Michigan from 7-7:40 am CT on Friday. The third and final round is slated for Saturday morning. Live scoring is available at http://golfstatresults.com/public/index.cfm?tournament_id=2610.
"We come to any tournament and we want to win," Guthrie said. "It would nice to go into nationals winning three in a row. We feel good with where are, but at the same time, we know it's more of a marathon than a sprint."