School record propels Illinois men’s golf to 3rd-place finish at Augusta

The Illinois men’s golf team placed third at the 16-team Augusta State Invitational this weekend. The Illini finished with a team score of 846 (18-under-par) in the two-day event in Augusta, Ga.

“We played tough competition, the No. 1 team in the nation and the defending national champion on their home course,” Illinois head coach Mike Small said of No. 1 Texas and two-time defending national champion Augusta State. “And that’s who we lost to, so it was very encouraging.”

The two top teams tied with a score of 838 (26-under), beating the Illini by eight strokes.

“We wanted to win,” junior Mason Jacobs said. “But we got some good wins against some good opponents.”

Despite coming in third, Illinois finished ahead of five higher-ranked teams, including No. 14 Clemson.

The Illini were paced by the consistent play of sophomore Thomas Pieters, who placed in the top 10 for the sixth time in eight events this season. Pieters finished in sixth place with a score of 207 (nine-under). Pieters and Jacobs led the team with 16 birdies in the tournament.

“Mason (Jacobs) was the key to the weekend,” Small said.

Jacobs was able to help the team to its best finish of the spring with a ninth-place finish, his fourth top-10 finish of his career. He scored birdies on each of his last three holes to improve his final stroke count to 209 (seven-under). Senior Luke Guthrie placed 18th with a score of 212 (four-under) — seven strokes lower than his score in the same tournament last year.

Illinois’ two freshmen Alex Burge and Brian Campbell were able to complement each other to improve the team’s overall score. Campbell started off slowly with a four-over and two-over in the first two rounds, but recovered Sunday with a one-over. Burge was able to keep the team score low when Campbell struggled with one-over and even-par rounds Saturday before shooting an eight-over in the third round.

Illinois put itself in good position Saturday. The Illini were able to end the first day of competition in third after a second round score of 273 (under-15) that set a school record and was the low round by any team in the tournament. The second round score was 18 strokes better than the team’s first round score of 291.

“In the last few tournaments, we came into the second-18 limping, but we were able to play well (in the second-18),” Small said.

Before the Augusta State Invitational, the Orange and Blue had not scored under-par in a tournament this spring. The team’s score was 20 strokes better than its lowest score this spring.

“We have been practicing really hard,” Jacobs said of the team’s improvement. “We have a different team and we are getting used to it.”

Illinois has three weeks off before heading to its last tournament of the regular season, the Boilermaker Invitational, in West Lafayette, Ind., on April 21 and 22. The Boilermaker Invitational will allow the Illini to square off against five Big Ten opponents before the Big Ten Championships the week after.