Lincolnshire's Jack Watson let the Illinois State Amateur title slip away in the last nine holes last week, but he put himself in position for a bigger prize Monday in the opening round of the 64th Illinois Open at The Glen Club in Glenview.
Watson, who has two years of eligibility remaining at Wisconsin after taking a redshirt season last year, carded a 5-under-par 67 to trail only Joseph Kinney, a mini-tour player from Antioch who shot a 65.
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That pair distanced themselves from the expected contenders entering Tuesday's second round, after which the field will be cut to the low 50 and ties.
Defending champion Max Scodro, also toiling on the mini-tours after graduating from Notre Dame, shot 71 as a late starter. He will go off in the morning group Tuesday. Virtually all the leaders were early starters Monday.
Illinois coach Mike Small, seeking a record-tying fifth title but his first since 2007, shot 72. Small was 4-under-par on his first nine Monday but gave up those shots on his back nine.
St. Charles assistant Curtis Malm, last year's Illinois PGA player-of-the-year and winner of this season's IPGA Match Play title, got home in 73.
Medinah's Tee-K Kelly, an Ohio State sophomore, was a 3-shot winner over Watson in the State Am at Aldeen in Rockford. He hopes to become the first amateur to win both titles in the same year since David Ogrin accomplished the feat in 1980, but he will have to improve to do it after opening with a 74.