On the first day of the Puerto Rico Classic, the men’s golf team posted three solid scores but had to put a 78 on the team scorecard, leaving the Blue Devils 14 strokes off the pace.
But freshman Bryce Mueller lowered his first-round score by five strokes Monday, lifting the 16th-ranked Blue Devils from 10th to seventh overall. The team fired a one-over-par 289 and will play another 18 holes today to conclude the championship.
“The difference is obvious when you see the change in the fourth score,” head coach Rod Myers said. “Four guys in the mix instead of three makes all the difference in the world.”
Nathan Smith paced the Blue Devils with a two-under 70 for the second straight day. The junior sits in a tie for seventh place, four strokes behind leader Alejandro Canizares of Arizona State.
“I think as we start to fill in the fourth slot better, those guys at the top will relax a little,” Myers said. “Ryan [Blaum] and Nate will know they won’t have to carry the team. They can just play their game.”
With two rounds below par so far, Smith is within striking distance and has a chance to record his first victory of the year. Myers said Smith has the confidence and ability to get to the top of the leaderboard.
“Nate is aggressive by nature,” Myers said. “I don’t think he’ll change anything. He realizes that if he gets a round going and has a chance to compete, there’s no question he’s got a 66 or 67 in him.”
None of the other three Blue Devils broke par on the day, preventing Duke from climbing higher. Blaum and Michael Quagliano each carded one-over 73s, and Jake Grodzinsky notched a three-over 75.
The difficult fifth hole caused a number of the Blue Devils’ major hiccups during the first two rounds. On the short, windy par four, several Duke golfers have been choosing irons off the tee. They have had trouble judging the distance for their approach shots, either leaving the ball short, plugging it in the frontside bunker, or rolling it off the back of the green.
“We’re at least nine over par on the fifth,” Myers said. “We need to try to reduce errors. On this course, there is trouble waiting everywhere. We have to make sure we’re not careless.”
Heading into the final round, Duke is a distant 23 strokes behind the leader, third-ranked Georgia Tech. But fifth-place Georgia is at even par, only five strokes ahead of Duke.
“If we can put a good round together tomorrow, we might be able to jump up some places,” Myers said. “If we can have four solid scores—73 or better—we’ve got a chance. In my mind, a fifth-place finish at this point in the season would be really good—no question about it.”
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