Pieters shines for Illinois

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MILTON, Ga. – In his final college tournament, Illinois junior Thomas Pieters flashed the type of potential that has many observers salivating at his pro prospects.

Pieters, the 2012 NCAA individual champion, tied for 16th in the stroke-play portion of this year’s event at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course.

But the Belgian really shined in match play, posting a 2-1 record after having to square off against the best player from each of the three schools his team faced – Texas’ Brandon Stone, Cal’s Max Homa and Alabama’s Justin Thomas.

On Friday, he lost, 2 and 1, to Stone, this year’s Phil Mickelson Award winner as the nation’s top freshman. But in the semis, Pieters took down Homa, this year’s NCAA individual champ, in 20 holes to end Cal’s dream season and propel his team to the final match.

And on Sunday, Pieters led Thomas, 1 up, and was awarded the victory while walking down the 18th fairway after the team title was decided in favor of Alabama, 4-1. The Illini’s runner-up finish was the best result in program history.

“I’m just really proud of my teammates,” Pieters said. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be in the national championship. We thought we could do it. We all played so hard and played for each other. It’s a shame we didn’t get it done today, but Alabama played really well today.”

Pieters, 21, announced earlier that he would forgo his senior year and turn pro after the 2012-13 season. He captured the Big 10 title and never finished outside the top 30 in a tournament.

Pieters is scheduled to play in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Springfield, Ohio, as an amateur. If he advances, he’ll play at Merion and turn pro afterward; if not, he’s planning to join the play-for-pay ranks after Monday’s 36-hole qualifier.

“I think I’m ready (to turn pro),” he said Sunday, “so we’ll just see what happens this summer.”