University of Illinois release.
MILTON, Ga. - Illinois fired a 2-under-par 278 to finish the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championships in fifth place, advancing to the eight-team match-play championship segment at the par-70, 7,319-yard Capital City Club, Crabapple Course on Thursday. It marks the second time in the last three years that the Illini have reached the match-play finals, as they qualified in 2011 before dropping their first match to Georgia. The Illini are the only northern school to finish in the top 15 of the team standings.
Freshman Thomas Detry led the way in the third round, carding a 2-under 68, while sophomore Alex Burge notched a 1-under 69. Freshman Charlie Danielson earned All-America honors by tying for 13th place at -4 overall following an even-par 70 on Thursday. The top 15 individual finishers were named All-Americans. Junior Thomas Pieters fell short in defending his 2012 NCAA individual title, finishing tied for 16th at -3 for the tournament following a 1-over 71 on Thursday.
"It was awesome," head coach Mike Small said of his team advancing to the match-play finals. "You make the final eight in this thing, and that's a huge accomplishment. It proves that our guys are good players. They know what it takes to compete at a high level. To finish fifth in this field is a big deal; there are some very good teams that didn't make the top eight."
California finished first in the stroke-play competition with a 5-under-par round, totaling a -16 overall. Georgia Tech was second at -10, followed by a tie for third between Alabama and Texas (-7). Because the total of Alabama's non-counting scores was better than Texas', the Crimson Tide earn the No. 3 seed for match play. Then, things got interesting in sixth place as New Mexico, Texas A&M, UNLV and Arizona State all tied for sixth at +2. The Aggies fell into sixth after being assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play, then lost a shotgun one-hole playoff to miss out on match play. New Mexico took the No. 6 seed, UNLV was No. 7 and ASU was No. 8.
The match-play finals will begin Friday at 9 a.m. CT with California taking on Arizona State. The Illini tee off against fourth-seeded Texas at 9:45 a.m. NCAA.com will stream holes 15-18 live from 12:15-4 p.m. CT.
Starting on the first hole, Burge caught fire nearly immediately with a birdie on the par-4 2nd hole that ignited a streak of five consecutive birdies through the sixth hole that put him -5 on the front nine after pars on holes 7-9.
"I spread the word as much as I could to the rest of the guys," Small said of his reaction to Burge's hot start. "When somebody gets off like that, you've got to spread the word because it's infectious when guys see that. Detry eagled the fifth hole to get to -3 and we were -9 early, and that was huge to get off to a good start. And halfway through the round, we were thankful for that good start because those holes are tough and we didn't play very well. But that happens on a golf course like that and finishing strong like we did was a big testament to these kids."
Meanwhile, Detry also started well with a birdie on the par-3 3rd and an eagle on the par-4 5th. A bogey on No. 7 left him at -2 at the turn. At one point on the front nine, the Illini were -9 on the day and tied with Georgia Tech for the team lead.
The rest of the Illini played close to par on the front side, with Danielson and Pieters even at the turn and Brian Campbell +1. Detry birdied Nos. 10 and 12 to get to -4. Danielson bogeyed 11 but got it back with a birdie on the par-3 13th, then played even the rest of the way for his 70.
Burge carded bogeys on Nos. 11, 13, 15 and 16 but made par on the final two holes to come in with a 69, his first round under par since April 21. Pieters bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14, but got one shot back with a birdie on the 470-yard par-4 17th to grab a 71 on the day. Detry bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16, finishing at -2, while Campbell bogeyed Nos. 10 and 15, and double-bogeyed 17 to finish with a 75.