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Len Ziehm On Golf

Moline’s Lawrence starts Illinois Open with a record 62

Monday turned out a big day for the golfers at Conway Farms – but an even bigger one for David Lawrence. The Moline golfer shot a 9-under-par 62 at Royal Melbourne in Long Grove. That’s the lowest round in the 66-year history of the Illinois Open.

Lawrence, who has been playing golf’s mini-tour since attending Eastern Illinois, wasn’t the whole show on the first day of the 54-hole competition. Three players shot 66, among them Conway Farms head professional Matt Slowinski. His hot round came on the same day that Zach Johnson won the British Open in Scotland. Johnson also has ties to the Lake Forest club, having won the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship there in 2013.

Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews was good news for Slowinski, with the BMW Championship returning to Conway Farms in September.

“I’m glad he won it. It’ll be good for our event as well,’’ said Slowinski, who had a strange round, despite the good result.

“You never feel good hitting a provisional on the first hole,’’ he said, “but I wound up making a 15-footer for bogey and got the momentum going from there.’’

The momentum reached a crescendo on his last shot, when Slowinski holed a gap wedge from 125 yards for eagle to finish off his round. That left him in a three-way tie for second with amateur Nick Hardy of Northbrook and Deerfield’s Vince India, who has spent the last two seasons on the Web.com Tour.

With 258 starters – 151 of them amateurs, this is the biggest-ever Illinois Open. The Illinois PGA changed the format this year, boosting the field from last year’s 156 and going to two sites for the 54-hole finals. Half the field played at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, and the other half at Hawthorn Woods Country Club.

“I like (the new format),’’ said Slowinski. “It’s good to see more people in the field, and it’ll make the event better.’’

Slowinski opened his title bid at Royal Melbourne and plays at Hawthorn Woods on Tuesday. That was encouraging for him because his best Illinois Open was a tie for fourth when the event was contested at that course from 2008-11. Hardy and India also posted their low scores at Royal Melbourne.

Hardy is in the midst of a torrid schedule. He finished third in the Illinois State Amateur last week at Panther Creek, in Springfield. After the Illinois Open he has the Western Amateur at Rich Harvest, in Sugar Grove, and the U.S. Amateur, at Olympia Fields, on his August schedule.

The field will be cut to the low 70 and ties (up from the 50 and ties from previous years) after Tuesday’s rounds at both courses. The final 18 will be at Royal Melbourne on Wednesday.