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Len Ziehm On Golf

Illinois Open win could be an early wedding present for Cooke

A beautiful day at The Glen Club on Tuesday set the stage for a duel between Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly (left) and Bolingbrook’s David Cooke in Wednesday’s final round of the 70th Illinois Open.


Bolingbrook’s David Cooke could win the 70th Illinois Open today. He enters the final round at The Glen Club, in Glenview, with a three-stroke lead but he might have other things on his mind.

Cooke, who won the tournament in 2015 when he was still an amateur, will catch a flight to North Carolina on Wednesday night. On Saturday he gets married to Claire Corbitt in Asheville. They met as students at North Carolina State.

First things first, though.

The Illinois Open is the premier tournament for state residents and, if he wins today, Cooke would become the tourney’s first repeat champion since Illinois coach Mike Small won three in a row from 2005-07.

Small, still seeking that record-tying fifth title in the tournament that would tie him with Gary Pinns, was one of Cooke’s playing partners in Tuesday’s second round.

Finishing his round with a 5-iron from 200 yards that covered the flagstick on the par-5 eighteenth hole, Cooke’s concluding two-putt birdie gave him a 69 for a 36-hole score of 8-under-par 136. Tee-K Kelly, the two-time Illinois State Amateur champion from Wheaton, and East Peoria amateur David Perkins are three shots behind entering the final round of the 54-hole championship.

Kelly, already a winner as a pro on the PGA Tour’s Latinoamerica circuit, might be the more likely challenger in the final round. He knows Cooke very well.

“We go way back. David (Cooke) was at Purdue during my freshman year at Ohio State,’’ said Kelly. “Now we share the same agent (Barry Meister) and same coach (John Perna).’’

Perkins, an Illinois State player, blew a six-stroke lead in the final round of the Illinois State Amateur at Cantigny, in Wheaton, last month but is in position to make amends in the Illinois Open.

Cooke, who transferred to North Carolina State, won his first Illinois Open when he was still a student there.

“It gave me confidence because I was still wondering what career path to take,’’ said Cooke. After college he tried the Latineamerica tour last year and then earned full status on the European Challenge Tour.

Perkins had a dazzling start Tuesday, going eagle-birdie-par-birdie that triggered the day’s low round – a 65. The last birdie of Perkins’ hot streak stopped a foot away on a par-3. As good as Perkins was, he could only get in position to possibly give Cooke a run in the final round.

Kelly, trying to become only the 11th player to post wins in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, opened the tournament with a bang on Monday when he went eagle-birdie on the first two holes at Ridgemoor, the alternate course for the finals. He held the tournament lead late Tuesday until putting his tee shot in the water at the par-3 seventh at The Glen, resulting in a double bogey.

Kelly has put that mishap behind him.

“I’m super comfortable with this golf course right now,’’ said Kelly. “It’s how we all wanted it to play, and the weather is perfect. It should be a fun day tomorrow.’’

Frank Hohenadel, the head pro at Mistwood in Romeoville, is a stroke further behind Kelly and Perkins in fourth and the five-man group tied for fifth includes two of Small’s Illini players — recent graduate Nick Hardy and current player Tommy Kuhl.

Preferring to compete on the PGA Tour’s Korn Ferry circuit, Vince India — last year’s champion — didn’t defend his title. Today’s final round will feature 52 players – the 32 pros and 20 amateurs who survived the 36-hole cut. It came at 3-over par 147.

The final round starts at 8 a.m. with Cooke, Kelly and Perkins teeing off last at 11:07 a.m.