Pieters has Illini in NCAA hunt
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — After shooting an opening-round 69, Illinois sophomore Thomas Pieters is in the thick of the chase for an NCAA individual golf title.
Though it might not seem that way, the 15th-place Illini remain in the thick of it, too, for a berth in match play.
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Led by Pieters' 2-under score, Illinois opened with an 11-over 295 at the Riviera Country Club to tie for 15th in the 30-team tournament. Thanks to a tightly-bunched field, the Illini sit 5 shots out of a five-way tie for sixth place.
The top eight teams after 54 holes of stroke play will move on to match play.
"We are definitely still in this thing and just need a good round tomorrow to move up the leaderboard," Illinois coach Mike Small said. "Our goal is to throw out nothing worse than a 75, and I think we will be in good shape if we do that."
Pieters certainly is in good shape. Entering today's second round, he is tied for fourth place, 2 strokes behind leader Anton Arboleda of UCLA. The individual champion is determined in stroke play.
"Thomas played great and had a good rhythm out there," Small said. "He finished strong with two solid birdies on the last two holes.
"He carried us today, and tomorrow is someone else's chance. If we are going to compete on this stage at the national level, we are going to need a total team effort."
Pieters was one of 10 golfers to break par.
"I played pretty solid all day and hit some pretty good shots," he said. "Once you get in the fairway, it is a pretty straightforward course. The greens were a little bumpy at times, but you just have to roll it well and make some putts."
Luke Guthrie was the UI's No. 2 scorer with a 73 and is tied for 46th. The senior bogeyed three of the first five holes, then birdied three of the next seven,
Also figuring in the Illini team score were Mason Jacobs (76) and Brian Campbell (77).