Ellenbogen shines, but Duke falls

Courtney Ellenbogen fired a career-best 69 Thursday, but Duke failed to crack the top five in the tourney.
Courtney Ellenbogen fired a career-best 69 Thursday, but Duke failed to crack the top five in the tourney.

For most schools, a top-10 finish at the NCAA Tournament would be considered a success.

Duke, though, with its tremendous success in recent years, is no longer among  those schools. The Blue Devils finished the NCAA Tournament tied for eighth at the Country Club of Landfall Friday after bouncing back from poor second and third days with an even-par 288.

For the team, lofty pre-round expectations mean that the tournament played in Wilmington, N.C. was a disappointment. Still, head coach Dan Brooks saw it as more of a letdown than a failure.

“We came in here to try to win this thing,” Brooks said. “[Friday] we were playing for place... We made it to the national championship and hopefully finished in the top 10. That is not a total failure, but we really did want to win this tournament.”

Purdue ultimately won the championship with a four-round total of 1,153, while Duke finished 26 strokes off at 1,179. The loss wasn’t what the Blue Devils wanted, but their strong play in final round conditions, with final round pressure and pin placements, still had Brooks impressed with his team’s abilities.

“I am proud of them,” Brooks said. “As far as effort, there is no question everybody gave their best.”

Another positive sign for Duke was the strong play of its freshmen, particularly Courtney Ellenbogen.

Ellenbogen, who shot a career-best 69 Thursday to shoot up 19 places on the leaderboard, notched six birdies on the day, and was, at one point, four-under.

“I hit the ball really well and got some putts to drop,” Ellenbogen said. “It was a lot of fun out there.”

Ellenbogen attributed her success Thursday to the momentum she gained from making a few early putts. She birdied four of the first nine holes, and only needed 11 putts until she made the turn. She shot a 74 Friday to finish the tournament tied for 18th. It was the highest any Blue Devil would finish.

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, the team’s lone senior, Allison Whitaker, also played well. In her final collegiate round, the Melbourne native shot a one-under 71 to finish the week tied for 39th. After making the turn at even par, she birdied the 10th, 12th and 14th holes to move to three-under, then she bogeyed 15 and double-bogeyed 16.

It all set up for a dramatic finish. On No. 18, Witaker hit a wedge, which has been a weak part of her bag in the past, from the deep rough onto the green for an easy birdie.

“On the last hole, she played a beautiful wedge shot up close to the green,” Brooks said. “That’s been a part of her game that she’s been trying to develop over the past few years, and her last significant shot was one of those from the rough that she hit for a tap-in birdie.... It was a great way to go out.”

While Whitaker’s 295 during the tournament meant she played well throughout, the rest of the Blue Devils were not as consistent throughout the week. The team’s markedly stronger play Tuesday and Friday than on Wednesday and Thursday made Brooks wonder what could have been.

“Unfortunately, the middle two days of this tournament here were kind of a microcosm of [the] season,” he said. “We just had this low period and then shined again at the end. We will think about it and think about some things we can do to get stronger.”


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