The Blue Devils displayed resilience and patience Sunday, but the team’s early deficit left Duke short of its third consecutive victory in South Carolina.
The No. 2 Blue Devils were on track for their worst finish of the year at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, but posted the tournament’s lowest final-day score to yield a third-place finish at Long Cove Club in Hilton Head Island, S.C. The team climbed seven spots up the leaderboard in the third round, trimming down its 21-shot first-round deficit to champion No. 7 Alabama and completing the event with a score of 878—just 10 strokes behind the Crimson Tide.
Sandy Choi led the charge throughout the weekend, setting the pace with an opening-round even-par 71 and besting it Saturday with a 70. Although the junior cooled off a bit in the final round—carding a two-over-par 73—her steady performance placed her in a tie for second place for her best finish since fall 2014. The Seoul, South Korea, native displayed her comfort with the Pete Dye design yet again, improving on last year’s tie for third place.
“She’s not a real long hitter, but the cool thing about her is that her long game is really her strength,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “She plays very consistent, very smart golf. She knows her game well, and so she plays the shots very smartly. That’s where she comes out playing well on the hardest golf courses we’ve played.”
It was an up-and-down event for the rest of the Blue Devil roster, but the team put things together in the final round. Brooks' squad jumped from 10th to third Sunday thanks to impressive play on Long Cove Club’s difficult back nine—Duke’s beginning nine of the day—which includes three of the course’s four hardest holes. The team’s four scoring golfers combined to shoot five-over-par on the back nine during the final day, beating the final nine’s Sunday team average by more than eight strokes.
With the event’s top nine teams starting on the course’s first nine holes, Brooks and his team did not realize the progress they had made until late in the day.
“We had really played both sides really well, but… we didn’t know we were playing it that well relative to the field until we started climbing up the board,” Brooks said. “We played it, and we didn’t move at all, but then the teams that were leading had to play that back side second instead of first, so we started making our climb very late in the round.”
Usual frontrunner Leona Maguire posted the second-worst finish of her career in a tie for 17th, though she bounced back from a first-round 75 with weekend scores of 72 and 73. The sophomore’s best round came Saturday—when she had just two bogies on the card—but she kept the red numbers away as well, posting just one birdie on the day.
Celine Boutier epitomized Duke's roller-coaster weekend, carding both the team’s best and worst rounds of the event. The senior opened the tournament on a sour note, posting the team’s highest score through two days after rounds of 76 and 80 that included a 14-hole stretch during which she went 12-over-par. But Boutier responded fiercely on Sunday, posting three birdies and two bogeys en route to a 70—the best Blue Devil score on the final day and tied with Choi’s second-round 70 for the team’s best number of the event.
“That just shows you Celine’s resilience,” Brooks said. “She’s a fighter and it’s just a great example of how she is. She’s not going to let a high round get her down, she’s going to come back and fight like crazy and get it done.”
After entering this week on a streak of three consecutive top-20 finishes, Virginia Elena Carta tapered off and finished with a three-day total of 228. Poor performance on the par-5s marred the freshman’s showing, as Carta triple-bogeyed her first par-5 of the weekend—the 524-yard third hole—and finished 79th out of 90 competitors in scoring average on those holes. The Udine, Italy, native bookended the tournament with rounds of 78, but contributed to the team’s Saturday improvement with a 72.
Gurbani Singh improved her play after shooting a career-high 82 in her previous start, tying with Boutier and others with a 45th-place finish. The New Delhi, India, native opened the tournament with a six-over-par 77, but gradually loosened up to the course as the tournament progressed, shooting rounds of 75 and 74 Saturday and Sunday.
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The Blue Devils will travel to Baton Rouge, La., next to tee it up in the LSU Tiger Golf Classic March 20-22.