Devils face second day struggles in tourney

Junior Kim Donovan shot a four-under 68 on day one and sat in fourth, then carded an 81 on the second day.
Junior Kim Donovan shot a four-under 68 on day one and sat in fourth, then carded an 81 on the second day.

With finals in the rearview mirror, the Blue Devils spent the last few weeks preparing for the NCAA Championship, which started Tuesday on the Dye Course at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. Playing in its 13th consecutive NCAA Championship, it’s safe to say that Duke had high expectations—and after a solid first day which left the Blue Devils tied for third, the team looked poised to challenge for what would be the program’s sixth national championship.

After a second day struggle, however, which saw Duke post a 15-over par 303, the Blue Devils face an uphill climb to the top of the leaderboard, and are 21 strokes behind with only 36 holes remaining.

“We just never really got going,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “It was a slow start and it stayed slow.”

Duke did not come out of the gates firing Tuesday, and several players had to endure rough starts early in round one. Teeing off in the afternoon session on hole No. 10, the five Blue Devils played the first three holes at 6-over collectively. Though scores could have ballooned early on the back nine—which included five of the toughest nine holes on the course Tuesday, stroke average wise—Duke showed its characteristic resiliency approaching the turn. Each player birdied the 445-yard par-5 18th, giving the Blue Devils momentum approaching the front nine.

“We got off to a bad start, and we’ve had a bit of a tendency to get off to slow starts, but we brought it back,” Brooks said.

Kim Donovan, a junior who is coming off of a top-15 finish at the NCAA East Regional, led the charge over the final nine holes. Donovan carded a bogey-free front-nine 33 to give her an 18-hole score of 4-under, good for fourth-place after day one. Newly crowned ACC Player and Rookie of the Year Lindy Duncan birdied the par-4 ninth to card an even-par round of 72, and fellow freshman Courtney Ellenbogen fired three birdies and five bogeys for an up-and-down day of 74.

“Kim was in the zone, and it’s fun to watch somebody in the zone,” Brooks said.

Donovan and the rest of the Blue Devils would not be able to produce the same scores Wednesday however, as Duke, save for Ellenbogen’s 73, struggled across the board. Teeing off on the front nine, the Blue Devils faced the Dye Course’s signature hole early in the round—a short 131-yard par-3 with a peninsula green guarded by water. No. 2 played as the toughest hole on the course Wednesday at .68 over-par, and the treacherous par-3 proved to be the undoing for Donovan, who posted a quadruple-bogey seven en route to a 9-over par 81. Duncan faired similarly, with a bogey on the second and a six on the par-4 fifth, which led to a 4-over par 76 on the day.

“Mainly, they’ve just got to take it a shot at a time, and focus on execution instead of results [on the leaderboard],” Brooks said. “It’s doable. We’ve got two days, you make up ten or twelve shots a day…. Even at nationals you can do that,” Brooks said.

The Blue Devils now stand at 12th on the leaderboard, trailing leader USC by 21 strokes. A comeback of this proportion is not unprecedented for this Duke team, though, and the Blue Devils can look to an early season victory at the very same Dye course in the NCAA Fall Preview for motivation. Facing a 10-shot deficit to then-No.1 UCLA to begin the day, Duke, led by senior Alison Whitaker’s 69, carded 19 birdies and an eagle collectively on Sunday to cap a stunning comeback. While the seasons have changed, the Blue Devils will need to repeat their autumn achievements if they hope to bring a national championship back to Durham.


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