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"What I faced in Illinois was totally different than what I'll see [Thursday]," PGA Professional Mike Small said before teeing off in the PGA Championship. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Small tunes up for PGA with another Illinois Open victory

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PGA Professional Mike Small sure knows how to get on a confidence high before a major. The University of Illinois golf coach won his third straight Illinois Open on Wednesday, then boarded a late flight to make his Thursday afternoon tee time at Southern Hills.

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

TULSA, Okla. -- Mike Small knows how to make the most of a business trip.

The University of Illinois men's head golf coach and 2005 PGA Professional National Champion captured his third consecutive Illinois Open title Wednesday in Glenview, Ill., then boarded an 8 p.m. flight to Tulsa to prepare for a 2:45 p.m. Thursday tee time in the 89th PGA Championship.

Small earned $19,919 from a total purse of $85,000, finishing with a 6-under-par 66 for a two-stroke victory. It was his fourth overall Illinois Open title; he also won in 2003, '05 and '06.

When asked if he came to the course with a score in mind, he said, "Sixty-five was my number." As it turned out, 66 would prove to be enough.

Entering the final round, 22 competitors were within four strokes of leader Andrew Price, 25, of Lake Forest, Ill., who opened with a 66. Small, playing seven groups in front of the leaders, began his day with a birdie at the par-5 first hole. He went on to make five additional birdies with no bogeys for the low score of the final round.

After signing his scorecard, Small was the leader in the clubhouse with an 8-under-par 136, one stroke better than amateur Joe Cermak of Chicago, who had four holes remaining. With the Championship still in the balance, the wait for Small began. Then the rain started to fall again.

At 2:57 p.m., play was suspended due to lighting strikes in the area. As the remaining competitors were being pulled off the golf course, four players were within two strokes of the lead. The weather conditions continued for nearly two hours forcing Small to make the tough decision to leave for the airport to catch his 8 p.m. flight to Tulsa.

With only three holes remaining, it didn't take long for Small's third consecutive Illinois Open victory to come to fruition. His four titles (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007) are second only to Gary Pinns' five.

"These are my friends and this is where I'm from," said Small following his Wednesday round. "I'm glad I came back to play in this event."

Kevin Streelman, Winfield, and Cermak finished in second place, two strokes behind Small at 138.

Small learned of his victory via cell phone sitting in his rental car in front of the American Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport.

He arrived in Tulsa at midnight and didn't get to sleep until 1 a.m. at his hotel.

"I feel pretty good, and I accomplished what I wanted," said Small prior to heading to the practice range. "The whole trip was to ensure that I would have some tournament experience under my belt before stepping on the tee here.

"What I faced in Illinois was totally different than what I'll see [Thursday]. It was slow, target golf. The ball was sinking into the ground. Here it will be fast and hard."

This marks Small's eighth major appearance and fourth consecutive PGA Championship. He preceded his journey to the Illinois Open with 2 1/2 practice rounds at Southern Hills.

"I'm really looking forward to this week and we'll see how things go," he said. "It will be fun either way."

The PGA of America is the world's largest working sports organization comprised of 28,000 men and women golf Professionals who are the recognized experts in growing, teaching and managing the game of golf while serving millions of people throughout its 41 PGA Sections nationwide.

Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has enhanced its leadership position in a $62 billion-a-year industry by growing the game of golf through its premier spectator events, world-class education and training programs, significant philanthropic outreach initiatives, and award-winning golf promotions. Today's PGA Professional is the public's link to the game, serving an essential role in the operation of golf facilities throughout the country.

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