McClear proves the best golfer in first Illinois Amateur on the North Shore

A year ago a costly bogey on the 17th hole at Mistwood, in Romeoville, prevented Hinsdale’s Mac McClear from winning the Illinois State Amateur title.  He wound up in a three-man playoff for the crown, with Crystal Lake’s Ethan Farnam repeating as the tourney’s champion.

That setback didn’t hold back the University of Iowa junior this time.  He was in control most of the way en route to a three-stroke victory over Tommy Kuhl, a fifth-year senior at Illinois from downstate Morton.  They were the only players under par for the 72-hole test at Westmoreland Country Club, in Wilmette.

“It was a long time coming, but this really feels good,’’ said McClear. “Last year didn’t stay in my head. I played well, but Mistwood wasn’t my favorite course.  I liked this one better.  I didn’t like Mistwood’s water.  This was definitely my kind of course.’’

Windy weather the last two days hampered the scoring when the tourney was played on a North Shore course for the first time in its rich history.  McClear shot 68-77 in Thursday’s 36-hole climax to the 91st annual championship while Kuhl went 68-75.  McClear posted 5-under-par 283 for the four rounds.

McClear, who won the Big Ten individual title last year, owned a five-stroke lead after Thursday’s morning round, but that advantage was gone after he hit the back nine in the afternoon.

Only Kuhl presented a challenge.  He pulled even with McClear, but then made three bogeys early on the final nine when his rival got hot.

“From 10 to 15 I really played good.  I almost birdied five of those six holes,’’ said McClear.  He was up six shots with three holes to play but then threatened to give that lead away, too.

A triple bogey seven at No. 16 brought Kuhl within two shots, but McClear also made a bogey at the 17th.  Playing one group behind Kuhl, McClear watched his rival make double bogey on the 18th and nursed his way through the final hole to secure the victory.

The loss left Kuhl nearly in tears.

“I wanted this tournament.  It was one of my goals,’’ he said.  “I just got beat by a better man.’’

They’ll meet two more times before returning to their college teams.  McClear and Kuhl both qualified for the Western Amateur, coming up Aug. 1-6 at Exmoor, in Highland Park . Then the U.S. Amateur will conclude their summer seasons.