When 38th-ranked junior Nathan Smith reached the 13th tee Monday at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., he was even for the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship. Six holes later, he was five over par.
Smith was not the only Blue Devil to struggle down the stretch. As a unit, 11th-ranked Duke was a combined 12 strokes over par during the final third of the day. The team fell to 28 over for the tournament and 11th place in a 17-team field.
“We were playing really solidly after 12 holes and then everything just disappeared,” head coach Rod Myers said. “I told our guys that we really need to have some patience.”
Ninth-ranked junior Ryan Blaum, who has been the most consistent Blue Devil, has been under the weather lately, losing 12 pounds in three days last week. Despite his illness, he continued his steady play, notching a two-over 74, bringing him to three over. The junior finished the day in 10th place, five strokes back with one round left to play. His scorecard was marred in the final five holes as well, finishing that stretch two over par.
“I played okay,” Blaum said. “The course is playing really rough, and I didn’t play that well, but my score was not too bad considering what everyone else is shooting.”
Sophomore Jake Grodzinsky also struggled mightily during the final five holes. Starting the stretch at two under par for the day, Grodzinsky rode two bogeys and two double bogeys to a four-over-par round.
“The wind was a tremendous factor down the stretch,” Myers said. “On the last three holes, there was a strong crosswind right-to-left that put three of our guys in the water on 18. The one thing that can have a huge influence on golf scores is the wind.”
Duke was not the only team to succumb to the poor conditions. At three over par, Alabama was the lone squad to finish less than 12 strokes over par for the day. The Crimson Tide lead the field by four strokes over UCLA and South Carolina.
Individually, a measly four players, including two members of the Crimson Tide, shot under par for the day. The current leader, however, is Major Manning of Augusta State at three under par.
“The golf course played very difficult today,” Myers said. “Especially with this kind of wind, this course was very frustrating.”
Neither of Duke’s final two scoring members broke 80. Junior Alex Wilson, whom Myers has counted on for leadership, had a rocky round. After starting off with a bogey and a double bogey, Wilson never recovered and finished with a nine-over-par 81 to put him at 16 over and in a tie for 77th.
Accompanying Wilson in 77th place is freshman Bryce Mueller, who did not have the same trouble closing out the round as his teammates. Instead, Mueller, who badly sprained his wrist on the second hole, stumbled out of the gate shooting nine strokes over par through six holes. He settled down, however, to finish 13 over for the day, ending with four pars.
“I think we’ll come out tomorrow with a pretty good attitude and be positive,” Myers said. “We know not to take ourselves too seriously and just go out there and play our best.”
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