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URBANA — Conor Butts watched intently last July when the trophy was presented to Varun Chopra at the end of the Twin City Tournament.

The former Champaign Central golfer — now a rising sophomore at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais — admits he’s thought about what it might feel like to walk up to the 18th green and collect the same trophy Chopra won this time last year.

Chopra — who wrapped up his second season with the Illinois men’s golf team in the spring after a standout career at Uni High — won’t have a chance to defend his crown after deciding not to play in this year’s Twin City event.

Butts, however, finds himself in position to take home the big prize at the end of day on Sunday.

Butts joined Tim Hoss Jr. and Jeremy Klein at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Twin City Tournament, with all three shooting an even-par 72 on Saturday at Urbana Country Club.

That trio was two shots ahead of David Deschler and Josh Anderson, who both shot 2-over 74.

Corbin Sebens, a Monticello native and the current men’s golf coach at Parkland College, was another shot back at 3-over. He was joined by Uni High graduate DJ Nelson and Centennial graduate Cam Hedge at 75.

The two-day, 54-hole event concludes with 36 holes Sunday at the Champaign Country Club, with players teeing off as early as 7:30 a.m.

As a Champaign native, hometown bragging rights are on the line for Butts.

“We have to represent Champaign Central well,” said Butts, who has played at the Twin City since 2015 when he was with the Maroons.

Butts remembered back to the first time he played the event when his dad caddied for him.

It didn’t go so well.

He shot a 99 — although at first, Butts thought he had shot one number worse.

“I threw a mini hissy fit,” Butts said. “I always look back on it and laugh now. It was nice to have my dad out there with me. I am so thankful for that.”

Butts has a chance Sunday to make what would be his best memory at the Twin City, but he’s trying to keep those thoughts out of his mind.

“I can’t think too far ahead (to winning), just have to focus on continuing to play well,” he said. “It’d be cool to win, though. I have yet to win an event like this. That’s just something that I’ve been working toward for a while now.”

Butts said he took a different approach toward his preparation for this weekend, using technology. He used Google Maps to plot out his approach to each hole on the course at Urbana Country Club to determine which would be the best club to hit off the tee.

Butts also switched putters. He used to play with an anchored putter.

Now, he’s using a Yes putter, and the Twin City is the first tournament he’s played with the new putter.

He’s happy so far.

“I putted really well (Saturday),” Butts said. “I had a lot less putts out there.”

Hoss, a six-time Twin City Open winner, also got off to a fast start during Saturday’s first round. He birdied three of the first four holes before ultimately finishing at even par.

“I thought the course was really playing difficult,” Hoss said. “Around the greens, the grass was gnarly. I was just trying to get through (Saturday). You can’t win the tournament in the first round, but you can certainly lose it with a bad round.”

With 36 holes ahead on Sunday, Hoss said he isn’t sure what to expect for the winning score, but anticipates it will be somewhere under par.

And in the end, whoever wins, will have earned it.

Sunday “is a marathon. It will be a big physical test,” Hoss said. “I am going to attack some pins. I am not going to go crazy. I play the odds.”

Sports Copy Editor

Joe Vozzelli Jr. is a sports copy editor at The News-Gazette. His email is jvozzelli@news-gazette.com.