August 29th 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 family commitments and had to pick up his kids at 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.