A lightning-fast start catapulted Duke up the leaderboard Wednesday into a fifth-place finish at The Preview tournament in Sunriver, Ore.
Starting the round in eighth place and ten-over-par, senior Ryan Blaum and junior Jake Grodzinsky led a Blue Devil charge that included a six-under-par spurt on the first two holes. The Blue Devils finished with a five-under-par 869, leaving the team 24 strokes behind first-place Georgia.
Duke finished just two shots behind UNLV, seven shots behind Oklahoma State and nine behind Georgia Tech.
"We did what we hoped to today," Blaum said. "Our fast start really encouraged a lot of positive momentum. When you hear your teammates are doing well it really lights a fire under you."
All four scoring Duke players birdied the first hole and Blaum and Grodzinsky went on and birdied the second, too. The team slowed down a bit after the start, but the Blue Devils still finished with the fourth-best score on the day in a field that featured 12 of the top-15 finishers from last year's NCAA Championship.
Grodzinsky holed out from a green-side bunker on the 18th hole to cap his second consecutive round at four-under-par 68. His tie for ninth place led the Blue Devils on the week, even after an opening round 75.
"There's not that much pressure when you're in eighth," he said. "You just go out there and gun for the leaders."
Blaum wasn't far behind his teammate, finishing at even par for the tournament. He rode a resurgent putter for his own final-round 69 and a tie for 18th place.
Nathan Smith's 72 and Michael Schachner's 74 completed Duke's scoring in the third round. Head coach Rod Myers said Schachner struggled with his ball-striking, and that the fifth player, Michael Quagliano, hit the ball well all day but could not capitalize on his play.
The team's late-tournament rally helped it recover from a disappointing 9-over-par 297 in the first round.
"The best part was that we got better everyday, head coach Rod Myers said. "Just one shot per man, per round makes a huge difference in college golf."
The tournament was the first Preview tournament Duke has taken part in since it hosted the NCAA Championships in 2001. The experience could be useful down the road as The Preview is played annually at the same course as the NCAA Championship.
"It was good to see the golf course," Blaum said. "It rewards course knowledge and that will be an advantage come June and the National Championship."
Myers said the team learned crucial strategy such as club choice and course conditions. The Crosswater Golf Club, on which the tournament was played, has only a few trees, meaning that the wind can play havoc with golf shots. The Blue Devils learned that on the first day of the tournament, and then found out on the second and third days that low scores are possible if the wind dies down.
Duke also knows that it can count heavily on the play of Grodzinsky, who was an inconsistent contributor last year.
"Jake may have been playing the best golf of anyone this summer," Myers said. "He is taking his game to a new level, which makes a tremendous difference in the strength of the pool."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.