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Duke nabs 8th at NCAAs

OWINGS MILL, Md. — Duke finished the NCAA tournament Saturday in an eighth-place tie, the team’s best championship performance since head coach Rod Myers’ arrival in 1974 and best overall finish since 1962.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I would take a top-10 finish at the NCAA, I think I would have said, ‘definitely yes,’” Myers said. “I thought we did a nice job.”

With all five of its players finishing within the top 21, Georgia ran away with the championship, which was held at the Caves Valley Golf Club. The Bulldogs led after each round and finished at 15-over par, 11 strokes ahead of runner-up Georgia Tech. Washington’s James Lepp won the individual title after shooting a final-round 63—the tournament’s best round by three strokes—forced a playoff with Pepperdine’s Michael Putnam. Lepp was crowned champion after Putnam three-putted on the third playoff hole.

Entering the tournament, Duke had relied on its two junior stars for the bulk of the season, but neither broke par in any of his four rounds. No. 10 Junior Ryan Blaum, the ACC Player of the Year, paced the Blue Devils with a 10-over-par 290 for the four rounds and finished in a disappointing tie for 27th. His best round came on day one, when he fired an even-par 70.

At one point during his final round, Blaum birdied three consecutive holes, including one on which he drove a 219-yard par 3 to within 10 inches of the hole—a shot he called one of the best shots of his life.

Fellow junior Nathan Smith, who has been the team’s second-best scorer behind Blaum during the season, struggled throughout the four-day tournament. His final-day 73 was his best score, one day after he shot a team-worst 79. He ended the tournament in a tie for 61st of 81 players who made the cut.

“I think we needed more out of Nate and I this week,” Blaum said. “I think that’s why we weren’t up there competing for the win. But all-in-all it was a solid performance for our program.”

The only two Blue Devils to break par in any round were freshman Michael Schachner and sophomore Jake Grodzinsky. Schachner shot a 70 and a 68 in his first two rounds and was in a tie for fifth place entering day three. But two straight rounds of 77 left him in a tie for 40th at 12 over. Conditions were difficult during his final two days, as he dealt with torrential downpour and wind in the third round, and then placed in a threesome that included the two previous NCAA champions, Ryan Moore of UNLV and Alejandro Canizares of Arizona State.

“There was a lot of pressure on Schachner today to play with two NCAA champions,” Myers said. “I know he’s disappointed with this final round, but I think he’ll really grow from this experience.”

Grodzinsky played consistently in his first three rounds, notching two 74s and a 76, before firing a one-under-par 69 on the final day. He birdied his first two holes and finished strong, shooting two under through his last five holes. He felt as though he’d played well all week, but had finally started making putts.

“I’ve been hitting the ball good, really the whole tournament. Today Jake Grodzinsky just made a few more putts,” Grodzinsky said, referring to himself in the third person. “He’s always right there ready to score. Today he really just put everything together.”

Michael Quagliano did not break par, but he did play Duke’s best golf over the final three rounds. He struggled on day one, carding a 76, but recovered on day two to notch a one-over 71. He shot 74 and 72 on the final two days, respectively, to finish in a tie for 42nd.

“I think the best part is that all these guys are coming back,” Myers said. “Hopefully they can feed off of this experience. You don’t necessarily get better at this game, but I’d like to think we will. Our freshman did a really good job this week.”

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