NORMAL — TJ Barger came to Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State on Saturday in a good mood. He was given a fresh start in the Class 2A Boys State Golf Tournament after snow cancelled Friday's round.
Barger had shot 41 on the front nine, but that was wiped out and only Saturday's 18 holes would count.
"It felt really good because it gave me a chance," said the Bloomington High School sophomore.
Barger certainly pounced on that chance. He birdied three of his last eight holes to fire a 3-under-par 68 and become the second BHS golfer to earn medalist honors in a state golf tournament, joining Keith Johnson who did it in 1933.
A year after tying for 88th place as a freshman, Barger began to think winning was possible before the season began in August.
"I thought during the summer, after putting up some low scores, that I could shoot really low," he said.
Alex McCulla of Quincy Notre Dame fired 71 to finish second, with Brendan Luster of Benton and Drew Hudgins of Carbondale tied for third with 72s.
Pontiac's Griffin Nyi also earned All-State honors. The senior sank a 10-foot par putt on No. 18 to shoot 76 and tie for ninth.
Charleston successfully defended its team title. The Trojans shot 312 to edge Benton by a stroke with Quincy Notre Dame in third (315).
Barger bogeyed No. 9 to finish with an even-par 36 on the front nine.
"I heard Alex McCulla was 2-under so I knew I had to make a few birdies and that's what I did," he said.
Actually, Hudgins shot 33 on the front so Barger was three down. "I didn't know that," he said.
Barger got going when he sank a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th to get to 1-under. When Barger hit it tight on No. 14 and made a 5-footer for birdie, he was in the lead by himself for the first time.
After missing the green on No. 16, Barger hit a delicate chip 5 feet away and sank the par putt. Walking off the green with Barger, BHS coach Mike McClellan said, "He has ice water in his veins."
Barger then stuck a 9-iron on the 148-yard 17th within 16 feet and gave a fist pump when the birdie putt dropped.
"Right after I made that one I knew I had to make par or bogey to win," he said.
Barger had to hook his second shot around some tree limbs on the 18th, but he did so perfectly and left himself just short of the green. He chipped to about a foot away and wanted to tap it in, but was told to wait until the other golfers in his group putted out.
"I just wanted to get it over with," said Barger.
Barger showed he was capable of being state champion earlier this season when he fired a 7-under-par 65 at Pekin's Lick Creek Golf Course to win by eight strokes.
Saturday's ending didn't surprise McClellan.
"Three weeks ago at practice he said I consider myself the best junior player in Bloomington-Normal," said McClellan. "I said I don't consider you the best junior player in Bloomington-Normal, I consider you the best junior player in the state of Illinois ... you're that good."
Nyi, who played in Barger's group, also was happy with Saturday's restart after shooting 42 for nine holes Friday.
After making the turn at 2-over par 38 on Saturday, but bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 put Nyi at 4-over.
"Coach (Paul) Ritter told me on 14 I needed play my game and stick to it and make some pars," said Nyi.
Nyi did just that. Although he didn't have a birdie the entire day, he managed to finish with six straight pars to become an All-Stater after missing the state tourney by a stroke the last two years.
"He was very determined the entire season and he put the energy in, too," said Ritter.