Host pro Carroll shares lead after Round 1 of Illinois Open

The 67th Illinois Open had two co-leaders after Monday’s first round, and neither was exactly a surprise.

Christian Heavens, a touring pro from Fairview Heights near St. Louis, had the best score in the seven state-wide qualifying rounds – an 8-under-par 64 at Effingham Country Club on June 24 – and that good play carried over to Monday’s first round of the finals when he shot a 6-under par 66 in the morning over the Royal Hawk course that is co-hosting the 54-hole event.

The other 66 was by Royal Hawk pro Brian Carroll, who played his opening round on his home course in the afternoon. He birdied the first hole, triggering a 5-under-par front nine, and coasted in from there.

“A fun day,’’ said Carroll, who reported early to make sure all was going smoothly in the pro shop and then concentrated on playing. “I’m very happy with how I played. Now I’ve got to do the same thing the next two days on a different golf course. There’s still a long way to go.’’

Carroll conceded that home course knowledge might have been a factor.

“Some people think I have a great advantage playing here, but I’ve only played Royal Hawk twice all year,’’ he said. “Most golf pros don’t get to play all that much.’’

A full-time player six years ago before entering the club pro ranks, Carroll has played only 27 holes this year at nearby Royal Fox over a two-day span, one of which was in bad weather. Royal Hawk and neighboring Royal Fox are co-hosting the finals and all the best scoring came at Royal Hawk on Monday.

The group one stroke behind Heavens and Carroll – Bloomington’s Brandon Holtz, Lockport’s Andy Mickelson, Elgin’s Carlos Sainz and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy – also played their first round of the tournament at Royal Hawk and will play their second on Tuesday at Royal Fox, which will also be the site of Wednesday’s final round.

Hardy, the only amateur among the 66 and 67 shooters, won the Illinois State Amateur with a rousing 28-under-par performance at nearby St. Charles Country Club last week. He’s trying to become only the second player to win both the state’s Amateur and Open in the same year. David Ogrin, a PGA Tour journeyman, did it in 1980.

Mickelson, the reigning PGA Assistants national champion, is director of golf at Mistwood in Romeoville and Sainz was a PGA Tour member last year.

Holtz’ round was the exact opposite of Heavens.’ Holtz had two eagles in his first five holes at Royal Hawk and was 5-under-par after six holes before cooling off. Heavens finished strong. He made five birdies in the last six holes.