GREENSBORO, N.C.—The Blue Devils will need to collect themselves in preparation for more postseason action after coming up empty-handed Sunday, but do not need to look far for a source of inspiration.
Despite a collection of solid performances Sunday, No. 5 Duke watched No. 17 Virginia hoist the ACC championship trophy for the second consecutive year, finishing in third place after posting a three-day score of 883. The Blue Devils played catch-up from the start at Sedgefield Country Club’s Ross Course as the Cavaliers opened up an 11-shot lead after 18 holes Friday and only distanced themselves from Duke throughout the 54-hole tournament. Freshman Virginia Elena Carta and sophomore Leona Maguire tied for 10th place, but it was not enough to put their team in contention.
The Blue Devils never challenged the Virginia lead, but Duke head coach Dan Brooks expressed no concern about his team’s ability to sharpen up in time for next month’s national championship. Following Sunday’s round, he said he reminded his team of what happened following the squad’s ACC championship loss last season—the Blue Devils went on to reach the national semifinals.
“We don’t have any reason to hang our heads,” Brooks said. “We played a tough golf course and if everybody on your team is just a little bit off and [on] the other team everybody’s really hot, it can look like a big gap. It is a big gap and hats off to Virginia.”
Carta’s impressive back nine headlined Duke’s final round, as the freshman sunk three birdie putts in her final five holes to carve out an even-par 72 and post the team’s lowest round for the second straight day. The Udine, Italy, native was tied for 11th through 36 holes and was positioned to lose ground after a three-over-par front nine, but used a hot putter down the stretch to salvage a tie for 10th place.
Although Carta eventually found her touch on the greens late Sunday, she admitted that poor putting limited her success. The long-hitting freshman created short approach shots into Sedgefield Country Club’s heavily-sloped greens, but could not consistently take advantage of those opportunities with the flat stick.
“I hit almost 16 greens every day and they were really, really close to the pins, so I’m really happy with my long game,” Carta said. “Hitting [that] many greens, my putter was horrible and I need to work especially on the short putts because I can’t make [that] many mistakes.”
Maguire joined Carta at five over par thanks to rounds of 70, 75 and 74. The defending individual champion ended Friday’s round in third place after birdieing three of her final four holes, but struggled early Saturday and Sunday—shooting a combined seven over par on the front nine—to push herself into black numbers. Maguire earned the team’s only eagle of the week, though, as she chipped in from just off the green on the par-five 15th Sunday.
“I haven’t been playing the way I want this week, my ball-striking hasn’t been there and you can’t really get away with it on a course like this,” Maguire said. “The big thing for us is just fine-tuning everything. I don’t think any of us played the way we would want this week, but I guess it’s better now than at nationals.”
With no Virginia golfer shooting higher than 73 Sunday, it was difficult for any team to gain ground on the defending champions. The Cavaliers ran away with the team title for the second straight year, backing up last season’s 26-shot rout with an 11-stroke margin of victory against runner-up Wake Forest.
Cavalier senior Laura Coughlin posted three under-par rounds en route to capturing the individual title—her first career victory—but will return home with more than just ACC bragging rights. During the post-round awards ceremony, Virginia football center John Pond proposed to Coughlin, ending her action-packed weekend with another piece of memorable hardware—an engagement ring.
Duke junior Sandy Choi was the most consistent member of her team, posting three rounds of 74. The Seoul, South Korea, native earned the most pars of any Duke player with 35 but—like Carta—could not get anything going with the putter and netted just seven birdies in the event, the fewest of any Blue Devil.
Competing in her final ACC championship, senior Celine Boutier opened with a frustrating 81 but stayed resilient and improved Saturday and Sunday, posting rounds of 75 and 73, respectively. The Montrouge, France, native’s rounds were marred by struggles on a single hole: the 363-yard 13th. Boutier combined for 11-over par on the par-four test after carding quadruple bogey, quintuple bogey and double bogey in three tries, leading to a career-worst 40th-place score of 229.
Lisa Maguire rounded out Duke’s lineup with a tie for 48th place as she repeated last season’s three-day total of 234. The sophomore was four over par through two holes Sunday and was never able to recover, eventually turning in an 84.
Although his team fell short of capturing the program’s 20th ACC championship, Brooks said he was satisfied with the grit his team displayed throughout the shootout.
“Toughness is what it comes down to this time of year, and so I’m pretty happy with the toughness of this group,” Brooks said. “I saw it right here at this tournament.”
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