"I'm definitely hoping to be in that category," said Pearson, who plays on the LPGA's Symetra (formerly Futures) Tour.
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She captured the IWO as an amateur in 2006 and as a professional last year. Only Burr Ridge's Kerry Postillion, who is also in this week's field, has three IWO victories. Postillion won titles in 1996, 1997 and 1999.
Pearson is one of four players to win the tourney twice; the others are Emily Gilley, Nicole Jeray and Aimee Neff. Gilley and Neff join Postillion as the only back-to-back champions. Pearson missed her first chance at that when she lost an epic 10-hole playoff to Libertyville amateur Nicole Schachner in 2007.
That playoff -- longest in an Illinois golf tournament -- was conducted entirely on a par-5 third hole, which was radically redesigned by Michigan architect Ray Hearn since last year's IWO.
"I liked the original hole. I had a lot of practice on it," quipped Pearson, "but I wasn't sad to see it leave."
Hearn's redesign -- the renovated course reopened two months ago -- was most notable for its 19 new sod-wall bunkers that give the course a European flavor.
Pearson, who played the new layout for the first time last week, applauds the changes.
"I like what was done," she said. "The changes made on the course have improved it. Some of the bunkers will make players think more, and the course will be more challenging."
Small ready to compete again
Illinois coach Mike Small will compete in the Colorado Open this week along with Eric Meierdierks, loser to Max Scodro in last week's Illinois Open playoff.
For Small, getting back in action as a player is essential.
"I haven't played much, and I need reps," said Small, who has the PGA Championship at South Carolina's Kiawah course coming up next month. "The Illinois Open was only my second multiday event since last year. I've always been a coach first and a player second, and with (the NCAA) Tournament, recruiting and camps I haven't had time to play that much. I need to play before the PGA."
Small is coming off his worst showing in the Illinois Open -- a tie for 26th. He's made one previous appearance in Colorado's Open, losing the title in a playoff in 2008.
This year's PGA will mark Small's 12th appearance in a major championship and his ninth in the PGA. He qualified by finishing fourth in June's Professional Players National Championship.
•For more golf news, check out lenziehmongolf.com. Len can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Wednesdays in the Daily Herald.