Illini in line to advance, but want regional title

Illini in line to advance, but want regional title

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The primary goal for the Illinois men's golf team this week is to qualify for the NCAA finals. That appears likely after Tuesday's 6-under par second round at the Columbus Regional.

But coach Mike Small wants more.

"We want to try to win this thing," Small said. "The more you win, the more you win. I want the mindset. I want the purpose. Whether it's the littlest thing in the world or the biggest thing, we want to compete. We're not going to show up (today) and go through the motions to qualify.

"We've got to do our thing. We don't need to deviate from who we are."

The top five teams in Columbus advance to the NCAA tournament May 25-30 in Stillwater, Okla, The Illini are 26 shots clear of sixth-place Penn State. In fact, Illinois is 13 shots in front of third-place UNLV.

Illinois trails No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State by 3 shots. That's the same margin it faced going into Tuesday. The Cowboys also were 6-under at the par-71 Scarlet Course.

No other team finished under par on Tuesday.

"(Oklahoma State) is by far the best team in the country," Small said. "The more you play with those teams, the more you get comfortable around them and the more you realize the margin for error in college golf is not that great."

Two Illini are tied for the individual lead at 3-under: Nick Hardy and Michael Feagles. Dylan Meyer is tied for seventh and Bryan Baumgarten is tied for 10th.

"It was a solid day," Small said. "It wasn't off-the-charts great, but it was a good team effort."

The Illini have another early tee time today and will again be paired with Oklahoma State and UNLV in the final round. In the past, the top teams had later tee times. But the NCAA is trying to reward the best team with early tee times so they see the course in its most pristine condition. Small likes the change.

"I tell our guys that I want them to believe we'll play anybody, any place, any time," Small said. "Just give us our tee time and we'll go tee it up."

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