Soggy Aronimink pummeled by golf's best

Rose leads McIlroy, Schauffele by one entering final round of BMW

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A soggy golf course, and Aronimink Golf Club fits the description, will giveth and taketh away.

It giveth birdies in abundance, and even the occasional eagle. Low scores have been routine, and if a traditional manual scoreboard was used at the 18th hole, the crew would have run out of red numbers by now.

It taketh away the concept of strategic placing of golf shots on a course with wide fairways designed to optimize the best spot from which to attack a pin. If Aronimink was dry – as it will be by, say, next May – you would need to be on the left side of the fairway for the best angle to avoid the many bunkers for a good chance to get close to a cup on the right side of the hole.

But with a wet summer, plus rain directly in advance of the BMW Championship, and 2.4 more inches from Friday’s dinner hour through breakfast Saturday morning, strategy is moot. High-level golf has been replaced by Olympic-class lawn darts. Players can hit the left, middle or right of the fairway, got their hand on the ball on Saturday thanks to the PGA Tour’s employment of the lift, clear and place option, and took dead aim, intervening bunkering be damned.

The result: A sea of under-par rounds unlike any seen in the 115-year history of the Western Open / BMW Championship, played under the latter title since the German automaker assumed the sponsorship and it became the circuit’s playoff semifinal in 2007. This was the 453rd stroke-play round in championship history, and the field of 69 of golf’s elite pummeled the 93-year-old par-70 layout, averaging 67.159 strokes, beating the old record average of 67.333. Which, by the way, was set on Friday under the standard Rules of Golf.

It’s like this: Whiz kid Bryson DeChambeau tooled around in 6-under 64 on Saturday and was disappointed because he couldn’t figure out the greens. He’s also tied for 26th at 9-under 201 with a round to go.

“Tomorrow I’ll be ready,” DeChambeau said of his Sunday prospects.

And like this: Tommy Fleetwood birdied seven of 10 holes and scored a second straight 8-under-par 62 – the fourth of the week – to match the two-round tournament total of 124 set by Jason Day in the first two rounds at Conway Farms three years ago. He’s tied for third at 15-under 195 and eager for more.

“I don’t think it’ll do any harm if I shoot another 62,” Fleetwood said.

And like this: Rory McIlroy shot 7-under 63 with a double-bogey on the par-3 eighth thanks to blading a chip shot over the green. (He eagled the next hole, a par-5, and finished his round with a 41-foot birdie bomb.)

“It’s a weird day,” McIlroy said. “They put a lot of the tees up and it was very wet. If you didn’t shoot 65 you were losing ground.”

And like this: Webb Simpson bogeyed his last two holes and still shot 5-under 65.

And like this: Tiger Woods, who drew a gallery about the size of South Philly, scored a bogey-free 4-under 66 and lost ground.

“I’ve got to take a run at it, whether it’s tomorrow or Monday,” said Woods, worried about a bad weather forecast. “You drive it halfway decent in the fairway and you’re throwing darts at the flag. There’s really no fear.”

The fearless leader to whom Woods surrendered scoring acreage is Justin Rose, who has taken to Philadelphia golf like nobody since Johnny McDermott, the youthful two-time U.S. Open champ of a century ago. Rose won the 2011 AT&T National – Woods’ mid-summer tournament – at Aronimink, and captured the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, about eight miles of winding roads away. (Rose also won the 2011 BMW at Cog Hill, the last one played at the Jemsek family’s playground.)

Saturday, his 6-under 64 moved him to 17-under 193, a stroke ahead of McIlroy and Xander Schauffele, whose 3-under 67 finished with a bogey at the last, but keeps him in the running to advance to the Tour championship in a fortnight.

Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler (5-under 65) are tied for fourth at 15-under 195, with Keegan Bradley at 14-under 196 via a 4-under 66. In all, 13 players are within five strokes of Rose, including Woods, who started the day’s adventure three strokes back and now is five behind.

Rose went out in 6-under 29, then parred every hole on the tougher back nine to settle for 64.

“I took advantage every time I had a wedge in my hand,” Rose said. “On the back, the conditions got tougher, but on 15, 16 and 18 I had nice chances at birdie.”

He also made a devilishly good par save on the par-3 17th. His tee shot leaked to the right and sat in the rough on the side of a steep hill, but he used his 52-degree wedge like a level and flipped the ball to within 41 inches of the cup, sinking that to preserve a 3.

“A fun shot but not really where I wanted to be,” Rose said. “There was a lot of improvising. Flicking it over my left shoulder was how the shot felt.”

Schauffele was 4-under for the round until his stumble on the 18th, but is in striking position with McIlroy, whose round of an eagle and seven birdies was built on hitting 12 fairways, 15 greens and taking only 26 putts. He wanted more.

“I was kind of hitting it here and there,” Schauffele said. “The fairways are big enough to hit it well and find some spots here. The biggest thing I took from the beginning of this week was trying to make the least amount of mistakes.

“I’m tired right now.”

The best work of the day was that of Aronimink superintendent John Gosselin and his tireless crew, who fought the odds and had the course playable for a noon start. But their work is not yet done, for the Philadelphia office of the National Weather Service fancies another 1.7 inches of rain over 48 hours beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday night. No lightning is predicted until Monday afternoon, so play would continue unless the course turns into a puddle.

To get the final round in on Sunday, a two-tee start will be employed again starting at 7 a.m. Eastern time if the weather allows. Tour meteorologist Joe Halvorson forecasts light rain in the morning and heavier rain after noon, hence the daybreak start.

Golf Channel will televise live beginning at 7 a.m. Central time, while NBC will show the action on tape as scheduled at 1 p.m., or go live if there’s been a delay. Nobody wants to think about options for Monday and beyond, or the prospect that Saturday’s round was the final round.

“I tried not to, but it was in the back of my mind,” Rose said of that option. “It got dark toward the end, as if weather was moving in.”

Around Aronimink

Galleries turned out in force despite the postponed start, with – no surprise – a throng around 42-year-old Woods, who still moves the needle after all his pain and turmoil in the last decade. He rewarded his faithful with birdies on the first two holes to climb back into contention and kept them in thrall the rest of the day. About 30,000 fans have turned out each day, and there was a decent gallery on Wednesday as well. Saturday, many parked in nearby front yards and walked to the course before the shuttle busses began running at noon. ... Two of Saturday’s three holes playing over par were par-3s, the eighth and 17th. ... The temperature dropped to 66 degrees with the leaders in the middle of the back nine, 29 degrees lower than Thursday’s oppressively humid reading of 95. ... The original plan was to play twosomes off the first tee beginning with dew-sweeper Phil Mickelson at 8:26 a.m., but the monsoon meant cleanup work for John Gosslein’s untiring grounds crew, so the switch was made to threesomes off both tees, which meant that even with the last group starting at 1:50 p.m., play would conclude about 7 p.m. Eastern, as was the plan originally. ... Whispers have it Mickelson was ticked by the change in tee times, because he’d ordered an extra TV for his hotel room and was planning to watch college football all afternoon and into the night. He was spied sneaking a glance at a game on his phone before teeing off.

Tim Cronin


Schauffele shuffles to the BMW lead

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ben Franklin, who first hung his shingle in downtown Philadelphia some 290 years ago, was the go-to man for wise sayings. One was “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

If you told the bespectacled patriot, inventor and publisher that people would be playing golf outside of town for $9 million some day, he’d have told you to go fly a kite, preferably in a thunderstorm. But Xander Schauffele followed his advice on Friday. Up early thanks to a 7 a.m. tee time to avoid oncoming storms, Schauffele added a 6-under-par 64 to his opening 63 and raced into the lead in the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club.

At 13-under 127 at the halfway point of this Birdie Bash, Schauffele leads 2011 winner Justin Rose by two strokes and the quartet of Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Hideki Matsuyama and Alex Noren by three, with a host of notables lurking.

Among the lurkers are Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the first round co-leaders. McIlroy could only muster a 1-under 69 for a tie for seventh at 9-under 131 on Friday, while Woods, a five time-winner of this carnival, four times under the Western Open title, settled for par 70 and is tied for 12th at 8-under 132 thanks to bogeys on the last two holes. At five back, he’s well within range, but almost anyone could put together two hot rounds and win.

Rose’s bogey-free 7-under 63 only tied for the third-best round of the day. Tommy Fleetwood and Kevin Na tied the course record with 8-under 62s, and are five and six strokes back, respectively, which is an indicator of how pliable Aronimink has been. Playing to greens softened by Thursday night’s downpour, the field averaged 67.333 strokes, the lowest-scoring round in Western Open / BMW Championship history by two-thirds of a stroke.

Aside from sinking a 58 foot, 9 inch birdie putt on the par-4 13th, Rose’s best hole might have been the 15th, where he made a par save from a greenside bunker. A birdie on the par-5 16th followed for the winner of the U.S. Open eight miles away at Merion five years ago. He’s since become a member there, and has a clue as to why he performs well here.

“Cheese steaks, I guess,” Rose quipped. “The crowd latched onto it for sure. Nice when they’re reminding you all the time that it’s your town as well.”

Maybe he doesn’t know the Super Bowl champion Eagles were booed at halftime Thursday night, and Santa Claus was booed at an Eagles game decades back.

Schauffele did last week what Woods did this week, switching putters to get the ball in the hole more quickly. It’s paid off. He’s made 242 feet of putts this week, including 131 feet, or an average of 7 feet 3 inches, on Friday. His 127 score is the second-lowest on the PGA Tour after 36 holes this season.

He had been using an Odyssey Works Versa Big-T No. 5, and for some time.

“I’m pretty loyal to my gamer,” Schauffele said. “I don’t like to switch too much.”

But something wasn’t happening – long putts weren’t falling. So he went to an Odyssey World Red No. 7 CH at TPC Boston. He opened with a pair of 68s there and finished tied for 49th, so decided to stick with the new wand.

The move is paying off. Schauffele needed only 25 putts to negotiate 18 greens on Thursday and just 29 on Friday. He’s first in Strokes Gained Putting, a PGA Tour statistic that measures performance against the rest of the field, through 36 holes on Aronimink’s undulating putting surfaces.

“It’s just a new look,” Schauffele said. “We call (the new putter) the Fang. It’s a much different look.”

The 42-footer he holed for birdie on the par-4 11th hole and 13th in 28 going back to his second hole on Thursday was the highlight of the round. But the winner of last year;s Tour Championship appeared stoic about it.

“I’m excited but I feel like I’m on sort of a mission here,” Schauffele said. “I have lots to prove to myself. I just want to win and handle my business. I feel like I haven’t been doing that as well, just on the weekends. I always thought I was rather a clutch player coming down the stretch, and this year has said otherwise. I’m trying to prove it to myself again.”

He might prove it to someone else if he wins the BMW. American Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has one pick left for the team he’ll guide in Paris at the end of the month, and while even Schauffele thinks Tony Finau is the favorite, a victory at Aronimink could make a difference.

“I feel I have to win,” Schauffele said. “Tony’s the guy right now, and he’s not making it easy.”

Finau also shot 64 on Friday and is at 8-under 132. The final 36 holes may come down to a battle for the last Ryder Cup berth along with the right to lift the J.K. Wadley Trophy, earn the $1.62 million the winner gets from the $9 million purse, and determining the 30 qualifiers for next week’s Tour Championship.

That’s a lot to think about. Schauffele prefers not to. He just wants his weekday play to carry over to the weekend.

“My Sunday scoring average (72.39) is pretty bad, to be completely honest here,” Schauffele said. “It’s very poor and my Saturday (70.42) isn’t very good as well. I’ve been failing a lot, so it would be nice to turn the switch and kind of clutch up.”

Entering this week, his Thursday average was 69.92, and his Friday average was 70.58. He’s already 13.5 strokes ahead of his season average.

Finau, meanwhile, had seven birdies offset by a bogey in his tour.

“I’ve been playing good golf all year and I don’t need to put more pressure on myself than what’s already there,” Finau said. “It’s a lot easier to say than to do.

“From what I’ve learned in this game, you can’t look ahead. So the possibilities are cool – the potential of what could happen – but nothing good comes from thinking too far ahead. I’ve got a couple rounds in front of me, 36 holes to try and win this tournament. And winning takes care of everything.”

Ben Franklin said that too, didn’t he?

Woods backs Kaepernick and Nike

A longtime Nike endorser – today for clothing, the company having left the golf equipment field two years ago – Tiger Woods gave his approval to the “sacrifice everything” commercial Nike aired featuring Colin Kaepernick on Thursday night’s NFL telecast.

“I think Nike is trying to get out ahead of it and trying to do something special, and I think they’ve done that,” Woods sad after his round. “It’s a beautiful spot and pretty powerful people in the spot.

“They did not tell me it was coming. When corporate does things that are outside of golf and outside of my realm, that’s what they do.”

Around Aronimink

Phil Mickelson will be a dew-sweeper on Saturday morning, off by himself at 8:35 a.m. Eastern. That’s what happens when you score 72-73 for 5-over 145 and are alone in last in a 69-player field. The final twosome of Schauffele and Rose start at 2 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Central. ... Only six of the 69 players are over par. The 2-over 72s of Mickelson and Brian Harman were the high scores on Friday. ... NBC is on the air Saturday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Central, with Golf Channel taking the rest of the round as NBC covers Ball State-Notre Dame football. ...

Friday was an interesting day from a fan perspective. The switch in tee times to a 7 a.m. start to beat bad weather meant action started about four hours earlier than planned. That triggered an early influx of fans, and a second wave of those arriving at the original hour, either because they didn’t know of the change or couldn’t make it that early on a weekday. Regardless, there was a mob around Woods, Fowler and Spieth, who started at 8:06 a.m. The gallery may have totaled about 30,000 by day’s end, which was early. ... Corporate sales were boffo for the first visit of the WGA to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Business Journal reported more than 150 corporate sponsors besides title sponsor BMW, most of them based in the greater Philadelphia region. All proceeds benefit the Philly-based Platt Scholarship wing of the Evans Scholars in an effort to grow the number of scholars attending Penn State and building an Evans Scholar House in State College. ... 

The word spreading about Woods’ hot start before Golf Channel picked up coverage on Thursday contributed to a .60 overnight rating, the highest-rated first round telecast of a playoff tournament in the last five years. The rating was up 67 percent from last year’s opening round.

Tim Cronin


Woods, McIlroy put on a show in Philly

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Spike Lee, when he played the Mars Blackmon character in the Michael Jordan commercials touting Nike sneakers, would say, “It’s gotta be the shoes.”

“No, Mars,” Jordan would intone.

In Thursday’s opening round of the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club, Tiger Woods brought back the Scotty Cameron Newport 2 CSS putter he’d used to win 13 of his 14 professional majors.

He shot 62, with 27 putts.

It’s gotta be the putter, right, Tiger?

“It felt good,” Woods intoned. “It’s familiar. I know the release point and I know how it swings and my body morphed into a position where it understands where it needs to be to release the putter.

“My body just remembers it.”

That’s Woods’ lowest score since a 62 in December 2014, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the solo lead. While he was as many as three strokes ahead at points during the day, Rory McIlroy, like Woods someone who hasn’t performed up to form in recent times, stormed across these finely manicured rolling acres in 62 strokes as well, matching Woods’ 8-under-par on the 1926 Donald Ross design.

McIlroy started 77 minutes after Woods and caught fire mid-round even without the blazing heat. At one point, he made six straight birdies, and visions of a 59 danced in his mind. Bogeys on his 16th and 17th holes nixed that notion, but he put 10 threes on his card and finished with a two-putt birdie from 48 feet at his final hole, the par-5 ninth.

That dynamic duo is a stroke ahead of Xander Schauffele, who snuck in with a 63, which used to be a hallmark score in this championship when it was called the Western Open. Then again, 8-tracks used to be all the rage as well.

A quartet including Justin Thomas and 2014 BMW winner Billy Horschel is at 6-under 64. Rickie Fowler’s in a gaggle at 65. Justin Rose and Jon Rahm are among those at 66, while Jordan Spieth and playoff leader Bryson DeChambeau are among those jammed into 20th at 3-under 67.

Even with a 62, McIlroy had a bit of woulda, shoulda, coulda in mind.

“I wish I could have capitalized on the sixth and seventh holes,” McIlroy said. “But I saw some really good signs last week in Boston and am continuing to see good signs this week.”

Woods and McIlroy tied the competitive course record set by Nick Watney in winning the 2011 AT&T National. It may fall in one of the next three rounds.

“There’s going to be a lot of guys going low,” McIlroy said. “At the start of the week, I thought 15- to 20-under would win, and thought guys would shoot 62 or 63. The course is meant to play a little firmer.

“As a second-shot golf course, you get tested.”

For this crowd, the best of the best, only to some degree. Given the perfect conditions for scoring (94 degrees, a stifling heat index of 101, 13 mph southwest wind), it was no surprise the field of 69 ripped into the hilly course like they were starving for a Philly cheesesteak. Only the course wasn’t as tough. Just five holes played over par – three of them were the long par-3s – and the field averaged 68.130 strokes, the lowest first round in the 115-year history of the tournament, surpassing last year’s layup at Conway Farms Golf Club by about three-quarters of a stroke, and the second-lowest round overall.

Even at 7,129 yards, the course simply isn’t long enough to keep up with today’s high-tech equipment, beginning with the golf ball, extending to the clubs and finally the launch monitors and other gadgets pros use to tune their game like auto racing teams use wind tunnels to perfect their aerodynamics. This is Formula 1 golf.

Fans, including the approximately 30,000 on hand Thursday, love it and it makes for an impressive television show, but the advances render classic courses little more than stylish backdrops for the Birdie Derby of the Week. That’s why Woods scored 62 and had company.

“The fairways are ample wide and the greens are soft – we’re driving it anywhere between 310 and 340 and so it’s really not that long a golf course right now,” said Woods, who hit nine of 14 fairways and 16 greens en route to a round featuring seven birdies, an eagle and a bogey. “Lots of wedges. Give yourself at least 10-12 looks at putts and you get on the hot run like I did, and I’m sure what Rory is doing.”

McIlroy hit 11 fairways, 16 greens, and took 27 putts.

“If you’d have given me a 62 on the first tee today, I’d have taken it,” McIlroy said, allowing that including practice and pro-am play he’d played 23 holes in 17-under.

Schauffele was almost lost in the shuffle, an odd place for a defending Tour Championship winner to be in. So is his place in the standings: 41st, when only the top 30 advance to next week’s finale at East Lake Golf Club.

“I felt I approached all the playoffs with that sense of urgency,” Schauffele said. “I’m trying, and still trying to make the Ryder Cup, obviously. It’s going to take a lot for me to make that late push.”

Tony Finau is considered the favorite, if not an odds-on choice, to be Jim Furyk’s last pick for the U.S. PGA team. Schauffele knows what he’s up against.

“I feel like I need a win,” Schauffele said. “Might not be enough. Tony’s an ATM, a top-10 machine. He’s been killing it and playing great golf.”

Finau opened with 2-under 68 and is tied for 30th, but it’s early in the Birdie Derby.

Around Aronimink

Friday’s tee times are from 7-9 a.m. Eastern, moved up more than four hours to get play finished before an expected thunderstorm like rolls through Philadelphia. Golf Channel’s live coverage starts at 8 a.m. Eastern, 7 a.m. Central. ... Rickie Fowler said he felt good, with no return of the oblique injury that hampered him late in the PGA and kept him out of the first two playoff tournaments. ... The field averaged 67.928 in the second round at Conway Farms in 2015, which was played under lift, clean and place rules and stands as the lowest round in Western Open / BMW Championship annals. Thursday’s 68.130 here is the lowest round playing proper golf. ... Defending champion Marc Leishman scored 4-over 74 and is tied for 67th and last with Adam Scott, who collected two double-bogeys (of the field’s 13) on his first two holes, and Brendan Steele.

Tim Cronin


Chang over Carroll in Illinois PGA playoff

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The wait was worth it for Dakun Chang.

It took four days and three extra holes, but Chang prevailed in the 97th Illinois PGA Championship, beating Brian Carroll to capture the title in a three-hole playoff at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake. A pair of birdies combined with bogeys by Carroll on the first and third playoff holes gave Chang a 11-15 victory after they tied at 4-under-par 212.

“He had a rough first playoff hole, so I had to play smart,” Chang said.

For Chang, it’s his first state major, earned after he tied for third last year and tied for seventh in 2015, his first year in the Illinois PGA Section. Thursday’s triumph is an indicator he’ll be a threat for decades to come.

“I’d been contention the last couple years, so this feels really good,” Chang said.

Chang, an assistant at Twin Orchard in Long Grove, won $11,200 along with getting his name on the Jim Kemper Cup. He dropped a six-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, the par-5 third, and one of similar length on the par-5 18th to close things out after Carroll’s last hope ended when his approach leaked left and found a pond.

“I had 295 in, so it wasn’t like I was going to get anywhere back by the pin, but I thought I could get close to the front edge and maybe make a long one or chip in,” Carroll said. “But I hammered it too far left.”

Chang, a 26-year-old native of Asheville, N.C., came into the storm-delayed final eight holes leading by two strokes, but bogeyed the 11th and 12th to fall behind Carroll, who birdied No. 11 immediately ahead of Chang.

“I had a rough start,” Chang said. “I just wanted to get back in my game plan, try not to worry about it too much.”

He steadied his game with a par on the 13th and climbed back into a tie for the lead with a six-foot birdie putt on the devilish par-4 14th after a tremendous approach shot from the right rough. He was 139 yards out and in a divot.

“That was a good shot,” Chang said, smiling.

Carroll was on his way to parring in, and Chang did the same on the last four holes, setting up the playoff. Carroll scored 3-under 69 in the final round, the first 10 holes of which were played on Wednesday before darkness, while Chang scored 1-over 73.

“The last three holes I had a lot of chances, but nothing fell,” Chang said.

Carroll, the head professional at Royal Hawk in St. Charles, was in the same situation. His birdie on No. 11 from six feet was followed by seven straight pars.

“I was four shots out coming into the third round,” Carroll said. “I got a little bit back yesterday, got one (birdie) to start the day but couldn’t get another to get to 5-under. I didn’t think 4-under was going to be enough. I thought 5-under at least. I was lucky enough to be in the playoff.”

His drive on the first playoff hole landed in the left fairway bunker, and things went downhill from there, but he grabbed his best finish in the section championship regardless, plus $8,200.

“I’ve been trying to snag a major out here, and coming close,” Carroll said. “Semifinals in the match play this year before Chris Green knocked me out, a good first round in the Illinois Open two years ago. So I’ll keep playing good golf and see what happens.”

Curtis Malm of White Eagle in Naperville took third with a closing 1-under 71 for 2-under 214, his fifth top-three finish in the Illinois PGA Championship. Chris Ioriatti (70), Green (71) and Travis Johns (74) tied for fourth at 1-under 215. Ioriatti birdied twice on Thursday morning, Green birdied the last, and Johns, playing in the final pairing with Chang, missed on too many birdie chances for him to recount, and couldn’t get the double-bogey on the par-3 fifth on Wednesday out of his mind. His approach flew into the hazard.

“I didn’t deal with it very well,” said Johns, who posted his sixth top-five finish since joining the Illinois Section in 2010. “I don’t mind making a bad score if I hit a bad shot, which I hit plenty of, but that one wasn’t bad. I just misjudged the wind.”

With Chang, Carroll and Mike Small already exempt into next year’s PGA Professional Championship, the next nine finishers made the field: Malm, Ioriatti, Green, Johns, Matt Slowinski, Steve Orrick, Roy Biancalana, Luke Hemelstrand and Tim Streng. Slowinski’s solo seventh is his ninth top-10 finish, while Orrick’s solo eighth is his seventh in the top 10.

The unsung heroes of the week populated the Stonewall Orchard grounds crew, headed by superintendent Larry Flament. Working long hours in heat, cold and rain, they kept the course playable despite drenchings that flooded area basements and extended the championship to a fourth day.

The field of 57 finishers, who shared in the purse of $70,065.03, averaged 75.35 strokes in the final round.

Tim Cronin

Chang leads Carroll by two in Illinois PGA

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The phrase “overnight leader” is commonly used in golf to denote the player leading at the end of a round.

This year’s Illinois PGA Championship is different.

For the second night in succession, Dakun Chang is sleeping on the lead in the middle of a round. He did so Tuesday night, ahead by a stroke when the storm-tossed tournament was halted by darkness with Chang on the 10th tee at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club.

Wednesday night, the Twin Orchard assistant does so again, this time with a two-stroke advantage on Brian Carroll of Royal Hawk with eight holes to play in the final round. Chang stands at 5-under, with Carroll at 3-under, Travis Johns of Medinah at 2-under and Chris Green and Curtis Malm at 1-under. That fivesome, all of whom have played 10 holes, are the only players under par.

Steve Orrick, Chris Ioriatti and Roy Biancalana are at even par through 13, 12 and 10 holes respectively.

The final round is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. It’s the first time the championship has extended into a fourth day since 1927, when it was played at match play.

“It was a little weird day today,” Chang said. “The delay (to restart the second round) threw me off this morning. I played pretty good on the front nine (finishing the second round), and the wait again (for the 5 p.m. start) was a little rough. But there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Chang made three birdies on a four-hole stretch beginning with the fourth hole, a 307-yard par-4. Chang drove to the fringe of the green and two-putter for birdie.

“That was the best drive I hit all day,” Chang said.

He sank birdie putts on the sixth and seventh holes as well, but bogeyed the third, fifth – by hitting his tee shot into a hazard and recovering with a brilliant pitch – and ninth, by which time the light was beginning to fade. But he rebounded with a par on the par-5 10th to remain 5-under, finishing the hole after the horn blew at 7:33 p.m. because he didn’t want to open tomorrow’s play with his second shot on the hole.

“Overall I’m pretty happy about my game,” Chang said. “Just have to do nine more – eight more – tomorrow.”

Carroll, four strokes in arrears of Chang after 36 holes, closed the gap to two strokes with birdies on the third, fourth and eighth holes, offset by a bogey on No. 9. Carroll dropped his approach on the par-5 eighth to 15 feet for an easy two-putt birdie.

“I knew I needed to shoot a low round to have a chance, and sometimes it’s almost easier to do that when you can break it into two,” Carroll said. “You think, ‘I’ve got to get to six or seven-under today,’ but you can get half of that and restart in the morning and not feel the pressure of having a great round going and ‘I have to hang onto it.’ ”

Johns birdied the third and fourth holes, the latter via a pitch to 18 inches, but double-bogeyed the par-3 fifth and bogeyed the par-5 eighth, when he was fortunate to find his ball in the gunch to the left of the green.

Mike Small withdrew despite standing one off 36-hole leader Chang, because Illinois’ men’s golf team begins practice on Thursday and Small, the head coach, has to be in Champaign to supervise it. That left Chang and Johns, two strokes behind Chang at the start of the round, as a twosome in the final pairing, which started at 5 p.m. With all threesomes ahead of them, they had to pace themselves or face long waits to play.

“I tried not to think about it,” Chang said. “But it was a long day.”

The second round concluded with Chang at 5-under-par 139 thanks to a back-nine 1-under 35, enabling him to complete a bogey-free 3-under 69 across two days. He led 12-time winner Small by one before he withdrew, and Johns by two, with Roy Biancalana, Brian Carroll and Curtis Malm four back at 1-under 143. They were the only players under par, and only Sean Gervais, Chris Green and Eric Ilic were at par 144.

Even with lift, clean and place in the fairway – a condition that continued in the final round on the waterlogged course, which has taken nearly three inches of rain since Monday morning on top of downpours before play began – the field averaged 77.44 strokes in Round 2.

The cut came at 12-over 156 and included 65 players. With five withdrawals, including Small and host professional Jeff Pajula (who had to pick up his children from school), 60 started the final round, which began at 3:30 p.m. Nine finished their rounds, while Medinah head professional Marty D’Angelo had to withdraw. He had two holes remaining but has to be at work on Thursday. That leaves 50 yet to finish.

Tim Cronin