MILTON, Ga. (UI Release) - Illinois freshman Charlie Danielson birdied two of his last four holes to fire a 4-under-par 66 - the fourth-best score of the day - in the second round of the NCAA Championships at the par-70, 7,320-yard Capital City Club, Crabapple Course, on Wednesday. Danielson and junior Thomas Pieters, who carded a 2-under 68 for the second-straight day, stand tied for ninth individually. The Illini are tied with Arkansas for fifth place at -3 overall after Illinois shot a 1-over-par 281 in the second round for a 36-hole total of 557. Host Georgia Tech holds a one-shot lead over California with a two-round total of 6-under 548. Arizona State's Jon Rahm holds a one-shot individual lead at 7-under-par.
The Orange and Blue have a three-shot margin above eighth-place Texas A&M (E), which is key because the top eight teams following Thursday's third round advance to the match-play portion of the championship. Illinois will tee off alongside Arkansas and fourth-place Alabama at 11:20 a.m. CT on Thursday. Much like they did in the second round of the Fayetteville Regional, the Razorbacks fired a 9-under 271, tied for the day's best team score, while the Crimson Tide were -4 on Wednesday and are -9 overall.
"This course is hard," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "It wears on you and it's hard to play well here for three, four, five days in a row. So you're going to have days where you're going to have to fight through some down times. We started off great today, then we had a lull on holes six through nine where our counters played them 7-over-par. Then to come back on the hard nine, the back nine - which is over 3,700 yards and the wind picked up - to shoot 2-under-par, was a saving part of the day. It was unbelievable. I told the guys after the round that that was a huge statement to come back, persevere through those down times and finish on a strong note."
The Illini started off well, with Danielson and sophomore Alex Burge carding opening birdies on the par-4 1st hole, then sophomore Brian Campbell adding a birdie on the par-4 2nd. Burge bogeyed the par-3 3rd but Danielson holed out from a green side bunker on the 3rd hole for a birdie, leaving Illinois -3 through three holes.
Pieters recorded consecutive birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 and Burge birdied the par-4 5th, but Detry bogeyed No. 4 and that's when the tide began to turn. Burge, Pieters, Detry and Campbell all bogeyed the par-3 6th, and Burge and Detry added bogeys on No. 7. Pieters, Danielson and Campbell, though, birdied the par-4 7th, pushing the Illini to -5 on the day. Pieters' birdie on No. 7 was particularly impressive, as his tee shot landed on the 8th hole tee box. But his second shot lipped out and he tapped in for the unconventional birdie.
Burge bogeyed the par-4 8th then Pieters and Campbell each double-bogeyed the par-4 9th, while Detry bogeyed the 9th hole, leaving Illinois even through the front nine. Pieters quickly stemmed the tide, though, notching a birdie on the par-4 10th, then all five Illini recorded pars on holes 11-13. Burge's bogey on the par-4 14th broke that streak, and Danielson's bogey on that hole was his only black mark on an otherwise clean scorecard. Campbell also bogeyed the 14th, while Detry notched his only birdie on the day on that hole.
Danielson got it back on the par-3 15th, though, birdying that hole, then he nailed his approach on the par-4 17th and sank a short putt for birdie, his fifth of the round. Campbell, meanwhile, fell out of scoring range for the team with a bogey on the par-3 15th and a double-bogey on the par-4 16th. Pieters notched a birdie on the par-4 16th and Burge bogeyed the par-4 17th, as the Illini counters finished strong.
"All the teams through five or six holes were way under par," Small said. "California was 17-under-par at one time, I think, and they finished 8-under. That shows how tough those finishing holes are and for us to play those holes under par kept us in it and gave us some breath for tomorrow. You just have to pick your spots and not compound your problems. For the most part, to shoot 1-over like we did today is pretty good."