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Three-way tie in Illinois PGA, but Small may have the edge

by Tim Cronin for the Illinois PGA

If you pick one hole of the 18 on Olympia Fields Country Club’s stout South Course and call it a difference maker, the par-5 10th may be the one.

At 500 yards, the dogleg left is reachable in two strokes for the big hitters in the field.

The tri-leaders when the second round of the 95th Illinois PGA Championship was suspended for darkness at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday all answer to the description of big hitters.

Curtis Malm, at 6-under with two holes remaining on Wednesday morning, is 1-under on the 10th after two attempts. Travis Johns, at 6-under with six holes left in his second round, is 2-under on it with back-to-back birdies. Mike Small, at 6-under and in the group with Johns, is 4-under on it. Eagle in the first round, eagle in the second.

Small has won the Illinois PGA 11 times, including the last two times it has been played at Olympia, where he’s an honorary member. Malm and Johns have done no better than second place.

Wonder where the smart money will be placed when the third round is played Wednesday afternoon?

Small is 5-under on his round, and it could have been better.

“I hit it pretty well, made a good up-and-down for par on No. 8 and was 2-under to there,” Small said. “Then I made a long putt (of 25 feet for birdie on No. 9 and an eagle on No. 10.”

Small’s second eagle in as many days was simple: Driver, 3-iron, putt. A 3 on the card allowed him to pick up nearly two strokes on the field. No. 10 was the only hole to play under par on Tuesday, at 4.81 strokes. He parred the 11th and 12th and kicked himself for missing makable birdie putts, but has a half-dozen holes on which to cash in after breakfast.

Malm was 7-under through 14 holes before a bogey on the par-4 15th. He parred the 16th and is semi-optimistic going into Wednesday’s activity.

“We’ll see if we can make one on one of those two (remaining) holes and see how the boys finish,” Malm said. “I haven’t played that well, just hit a lot of greens and taken care of the par 5s, but I’m not real solid. I’m hoping something clicks tomorrow and I can get back to my normal ways.

“It’s been a little ugly, but it’s worked out.”

He’s 5-under on the seven par-5s he’s played, including an eagle on the 18th in the first round. But he believes he hasn’t gotten everything out of his game given he’s hit 28 greens in regulation.

Johns said he played “OK” en route to his 3-under status for the round through 12 holes and 6-under total through 30. He scattered for birdies on his card, against one bogey, that on the treacherous sixth.

Nick Taute of Decatur’s South Side Country Club, Andy Schumacher of Indian Hill Club and defending champion Jim Billiter of Merit Club stand tied for fourth at 4-under, with Taute in the clubhouse, Schumacher through 11 holes and Billiter a blistering 7-under on his round through 15, the feature an eagle on the par-4 11th sandwiched between birdies on the 10th and 12th. If Billiter, 6-under on the first six holes of the back nine, pars in, he’ll shoot 65.

The plan, barring more bad weather of the type that stalled play until late morning on Tuesday, is to finish the second round beginning at 8:30 a.m. and send the survivors of the cut on their way beginning at noon. With both tees in use, a 6 p.m. finish is hoped for.

Taute is at 4-under 140 thanks to Tuesday’s 5-under 67, six of his seven birdies were accumulated in 12 holes, accomplished largely because of an equipment change.

“I put a new putter in my bag on Saturday,” said Taute. “A new Ping.”

That was good from just about anywhere in that stretch, and couldn’t be blamed for his birdie at the last, when his tee shot landed in the right rough and things got worse from there.

Taute had one advantage on the threesome at 6-under on Tuesday night. He was finished five hours before the horn blew.

“It’ll be nice to have dinner and watch the Cubs game,” Taute said.

Notes from under the clock tower

The course has averaged 76.17 strokes so far in the second round, about two strokes better than the first round. ... The morning’s 3.5 hour delay came courtesy of lightning and about a half-inch more rain, added to the 10 inches the course has taken in the last 10 days. That meant a move to lift, clean and place through the green, for otherwise, in the morning, the course would have been next to unplayable. ... Along with the title, 10 spots in the PGA National Professional Championship, a.k.a. the club pro, are on the line Wednesday. ...

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