Jim Billiter says nobody has an advantage regarding local knowledge when it comes to playing Medinah Country Club’s No. 1 Course.
He ought to think that over. Billiter’s second straight 4-under-par 67 on Tuesday not only earned him an aggregate of 8-under 134 and a two-stroke lead in the Illinois PGA Championship, it moved him to 17-under in five competitive rounds on the layout, which reopened in 2014 after a major redesign by Tom Doak.
Looks like he knows something about the course.
“I’ve played like six times so I’m an expert,” kidded Billiter, the head professional at Kemper Lakes, who won at Medinah in 2015, when he was still at Merit Club. “I played (a practice round) and remembered where to miss it. You don’t need to aim down the middle of the fairway here, you have to aim at the dead spots. If you aim down the middle and you miss it, there’s a lot of doubles. If you aim safe and you miss it, there’s a lot of room.
“I purposely aim for the trees on some holes, and aim to miss the green short on some holes.”
Knowledge didn’t instantly translate to confidence in the chase for the Jim Kemper Cup.
“I was super-tentative, because I was nervous, it was blowing (18 mph out of the northwest much of the day) and the greens were fast,” Billiter said.
A chip-in eagle on the par-5 ninth sent him out in 3-under 33, and two birdies coming in, offset by a bogey at the last, brought in an inward 1-under 34.
Billiter leads Twin Orchard assistant Dakun Chang by two after Chang’s second straight 68 for 6-under 136. Conway Farms assistant Brett Walker added a 70 to an opening 69 and snuck into the final threesome at 3-under 139.
“I had a good game plan,” Chang said of his six-birdie, three-bogey adventure. “I had to be aggressive starting on 10. The wind wasn’t as strong.”
He birdied five of the first eight holes on that side, including drilling a 9-iron to within two feet on the 150-yard par-3 15th, sinking a 20-footer on No. 16 after a 6-iron approach, and two-putting for birdie on the par-5 17th. A three-putt on the par-3 18th left him with 4-under 31 on the back, and while he toured the front side in 1-over 37, a 68 cannot be ignored.
“The last couple of days, the strength of my game has probably been my putting,” Chang said. “I’ve made a lot of good putts.”
Chang tied for seventh at Medinah two years ago, which earned him a spot in the PGA of America’s PGA Professional Championship, the title tilt for club pros. Getting that ticket, available to the top 10 co-entered in that phase of the competition, is as much a goal as winning.
Doug Bauman, his second straight 1-under 70 obscuring his 60 years, has the same goal. He won this title in 1996 and 1997, but can’t see catching Billiter, six shots ahead of him, without an extremely low round on Wednesday. Even with a wonky back, Bauman can see advancing to the tournament that gives one a shot at the PGA Championship.
“Billiter can get at flags we’re shooting away from,” Bauman said of the big hitter.
Bauman’s version of the fountain of youth is playing with his boys, Greg and Riley, the former tying for ninth in this year’s Illinois Open.
“It helps playing with them,” Doug Bauman said. “Greg has really helped with my chipping. It used to be a weakness and now it’s a strength.”
Bauman is deadlocked with Adam Schumacher, who bogeyed three of his last four holes and scored 2-over 73 following an opening 67.
Defending (and 12-time) champion Mike Small added a 1-under 70 to his opening 71 for 1-under 141, and is tied for sixth with River Forest assistant Brian Carlson, seven in arrears of Billiter.
No. 1 played tough for the second straight day, the field averaging 78.44 strokes on the par-71 test, compared to Monday’s 76.77 average. The wind, more than 90 degrees opposite the prevailing wind, accounted for some of the increase. Only two holes played under par, one of them the par-5 first hole, where three of the day’s five eagles were recorded. ... Billiter and Chang have each recorded 11 birdies in 36 holes.