LONG GROVE, Ill. – Everything lined up perfectly for David Cooke on Tuesday. The 22-year-old amateur from Lisle was in the second group off the tee at Royal Melbourne Country Club. The wind was negligible, the greens inviting.
And Cooke took advantage, scoring 6-under-par 65 for a 36-hole total of 7-under 136 and a share of the lead with Brad Marek of Arlington Heights going into the final round of the 66th Illinois Open.
Marek scored 6-under 66 in the afternoon at Hawthorn Woods Country Club, the other course the first two rounds were played on.
The duo has a one-stroke lead over Deerfield’s Vince India and a three-stroke advantage on Evergreen Park’s Rich Dukelow entering the final 18. India added a 1-under 71 at Hawthorn Woods Country Club for 6-under 137, while Dukelow toured Royal Melbourne in 2-under 69 for 4-under 139.
Bloomington’s Matt Miller, Algonquin’s Scott Cahill and Wilmette’s Eric Meierdierks, the 2010 winner, are a stroke further back at 3-under 140, Miller and Meierdierks firing 69s, Cahill a 72 at Hawthorn Woods.
Curtis Malm, the 2000 winner, and perennial contender Gary March are tied for eighth at 2-under 141.
The cut fell at 8-over 151, with 80 players, including 51 pros and 29 amateurs, surviving from the expanded field of 258.
“I was trying to stay patient,” said Cooke, who opened with a 1-under 71 on Monday at Hawthorn Woods. “The greens were still in perfect shape, still soft because of rains earlier in the week. It was the right time to play well.”
Cooke is entering his senior year at North Carolina State. He advanced to the Illinois Open by surviving a three-hole playoff in his qualifier at Royal Hawk Country Club. After opening the second round with a pair of birdies, he bogeyed the third hole, but birdied the sixth to go out in 2-under 33. The big noise came on the inward nine, starting with a 20-footer for a deuce on the 10th hole.
Cooke stood 4-under for the day on the 17th tee, and took what he called “a pretty aggressive line” on the dogleg-right par-5. That gave him the chance to go for the green on the 543-yard hole in two, and he drilled his second shot to eight feet, sinking the putt for an eagle 3 and, after one more par, 65.
“I knew it was out there,” Cooke said, referencing the record 9-under 62 of David Lawrence on Monday.
Dukelow’s game had been average until he took a putting tip from Medinah Country Club shop manager Preston “Pepi” Irwin. He’s responded with a 70 at Hawthorn Woods and Tuesday’s 69 at Royal Melbourne for 4-under 139 and a contender’s position entering the final 18 holes.
“I made some setup changes,” Dukelow said. “I’d gotten into some bad habits. How? By playing golf!”
He was even par for the day through 12, but dropped an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th after a splendid 6-iron approach from a tilted lie. It was the first of three straight birdies that jumped him up the leader board.
Meanwhile, there was a meltdown at Hawthorn Woods. Lawrence, whose 62 established course and championship scoring records Monday at Royal Melbourne, imploded with an 8-over 80. The stroke-a-hole higher score may be a record for a contender’s going higher in an Illinois Open. Lawrence, who managed but one birdie, and capped off his round with three bogeys and a double-bogey, still stands at 1-under 142 and tied for 10th with Josh Esler, Michael Sainz and amateur Varun Chopra entering the final day.
Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, whose summer included making the cut in the U.S. Open, also went in the wrong direction. The sophomore at Illinois added an 81 to his opening 66 to fall to 4-over 147 and a tie for 37th.
The kiddy corps had a mixed day. Morton’s Tommy Kuhl, 15, made the cut by adding a 76 at Hawthorn Woods to Monday’s 72 at Royal Melbourne. Lincolnshire’s Jackson Bussell, 14, missed the cut with a 81-79 showing for 17-over 160.