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Gusting winds knock Blue Devils into 10th

Coming off a victory at the EZ-Go Invitational March 20, No. 11 Duke expected big things this weekend at the ASU Invitational in Augusta, Ga. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the only big numbers were the windspeed and their score.

In conditions that bordered on unplayable, Duke barely avoided its first finish outside the top 10 in its last nine tournaments, scoring a 70-over 934 and coming in a tie for 10th. The Blue Devils ended 38 strokes behind the leader and had no individual in the top 11, but they were not the only team to notch high scores for the weekend. With it as windy as it was, head coach Rod Myers was surprised that anyone scored well.

“This was a horrendous weekend,” he said. “The conditions were horrible. Look at the scores. You can see that everybody struggled out here.”

Throughout the gusty weekend, players found it difficult to score anywhere near par. Host-team Augusta State, which won the tournament by one stroke over Georgia, shot 32 over par. The individual champion, Bulldog Chris Kirk, notched a two-under-par final round to finish at one over and win the title.

Saturday, weather was so bad that play had to be suspended when the wind downed four trees. Gusts as high as 55 miles per hour were recorded, and wind was consistently above 30 mph, Myers said. The wind died down somewhat Sunday but still affected play.

For the Blue Devils, ninth-ranked Ryan Blaum had his worst outing of the season, finishing in a tie for 32nd. Inconsistency marked Blaum’s weekend, as he averaged 3.3 birdies and 6 bogies per round, in addition to five double-bogies.

“Ryan really struggled with his putter,” Myers said. “He hit the ball awfully well. You couldn’t imagine he shot the score he shot if you watched the way he was hitting the ball.”

Nathan Smith put together the best tournament for the Blue Devils. The junior, who won the Azalea Invitational, an individual amateur competition last week, started the event with his best effort, a three-over-par 75, that left him in a tie for fifth. But Smith could not keep that pace up, firing five and four over par Saturday and Sunday, respectively. He finished the weekend at tied for 14th.

“When you’ve got two all-Americans,” said Myers of Blaum and Smith. “I don’t think there’s any chance to win if they don’t play really well.”

The windy playing conditions affected Duke’s two least-experienced golfers the most. The Blue Devils’ two freshmen, Michael Quagliano and Michael Schachner, both had their poorest performances of the spring. Quagliano did not break 80 in any of his three rounds, and Schachner had the highest score by any individual with an 88.

“The freshmen struggled to hit the shots with the wind,” Myers said. “It is where experience shows. Nate and Ryan can hit with wind, but Quagliano and Schachner just couldn’t hit the shots.”

Schachner recovered from his 16-over-par round to shoot a 79 and a team-best 74 in the final round. In one of the highlights of the last 18 holes, the freshman drove the green and sunk a putt to eagle a 290-yard par four.

Sophomore Jake Grodzinsky also provided one of the better stretches of the final round for Duke. He birdied three of his first five holes, reaching two-under par but gave back strokes on five of his next six holes. The sophomore finished the round at five over.

“We’ve just got to forget about this tournament and go from here,” Myers said. “We almost want to act like we didn’t play—put this performance behind us and start all over next weekend.”

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