MILTON, Ga. — For Illinois, it was mission accomplished on the opening day of the NCAA championships.
The Illini finished at 4 under and sit in fourth place with two rounds remaining before the top eight teams advance to match play.
“We’ve talked all spring about playing solid golf and taking responsibility for your game, and they did that today,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “The course wasn’t easy. It wasn’t as penal of a course as some we’ve played this spring, but it’s a hard, solid golf course. To have guys step up and take care of business today is a big deal. A couple guys were 2-over early and they both fought back. I’m proud of everybody.”
Illini Thomas Pieters, the defending NCAA individual champion, and Brian Campbell are both tied for eighth after 2-under 68s on Tuesday.
The Illini duo trails Arizona State’s Jon Rahm, who shot a 9-under 61 to take a 4-stroke lead.
UI freshmen Thomas Detry and Charlie Danielson each finished at even par (71).
Campbell carded five birdies and three bogeys, while Pieters had three birdies and one bogey.
Rahm, who was 1 stroke off the NCAA championship record, said he has never putted better.
“This is really similar to a couple of the European courses that I love,” he said after carding 10 birdies and a bogey. “I love the grass, I love the way it is set up.”
Duke’s Michael Schnacher shot a 60 in 2007.
The Sun Devils finished at 10-under par 270 on the Capital City Club’s 7,319-yard, par 70 Crabapple course.
Georgia Tech (274) was second, followed by Alabama (275), Illinois (276) and Cal (277).
Rahm, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was 4 strokes up on Oklahoma’s Abraham Ancer (65) and 5 on Cal’s Brandon Hagy (66).
Top-ranked Cal started slowly but rallied on the way in, and the Bears remain the overwhelming favorite to win.
“There’s absolutely a bull’s eye,” said Hagy, who birdied three of his final four holes. “We’ve won 11 of 13 tournaments, and everyone wants to beat us. If there had been discussion about who was the No. 1 team, it takes a little bit of the bulls-eye off of you, but we’re definitely the No. 1 team. All 29 teams want to take a crack at us.”