For the first time in 2018, Duke had a tournament leader within arm’s reach headed into the final round of competition. To win, the team likely needed both a low round of its own, and for first-place Arkansas to stop the birdie frenzy it had showcased during the first two days.
The Blue Devils did their part—carding a 7-under-par round, the third-best of any team Tuesday—but the Razorbacks pressed on and finished Tuesday’s round with the lowest single-day score of the event to put themselves between Duke and its first tournament title of 2018.
The fifth-ranked Blue Devils finished with a three-day, 19-under-par total of 845 at the Evans Derby Experience in Auburn, Ala., ultimately finishing in second place and nine strokes back from No. 3 Arkansas, whose 11-under-par final round was too much to handle for Tuesday’s other tournament contenders. Although Duke left the Auburn University Club empty-handed, the result continued the team’s trend of steady improvement in the spring.
“To go 19-under, we played some good golf,” Blue Devil head coach Dan Brooks said. “It was a pretty playable tournament weather-wise. So what has to happen there, when days are very playable, is you’ve got to let yourself go low. I think the great challenge for us was to let ourselves get birdies and actually go low.”
The 54-hole competition was also a breakout performance for freshman Miranda Wang, who turned in the squad’s best finish by tying for fifth thanks to rounds of 71, 69 and 70 that put her at 6-under-par. After teeing off Sunday with three bogeys in her first six holes, the Beijing native played the remaining 48 holes at a 10-under-par mark—highlighted by a bogey-free 69 Monday—for a career-best finish.
Wang’s previous personal best was a tie for 18th in October’s Landfall Tradition, and she had never finished better than third among competing Duke golfers in any event before Tuesday.
“Miranda’s ball striking was really good in this tournament,” Brooks said. “She explained to me that the second day, she missed three three-footers. That round could have been even better, so I would say her ball striking was the thing that helped her the most in this tournament. She’s a solid player anyway, but when she’s on, she has a powerful move and she was hitting them where she wanted to hit it.”
Wang was not the only freshman to shine down south, as Jaravee Boonchant continued her remarkable form with yet another top-15 finish. Boonchant led her team after the opening round by carding three birdies and one bogey for a 70. She continued that solid play Monday with a 69 that included five birdies and saw the freshman hit 11 fairways and 15 greens. A Tuesday score of 72 allowed the Bangkok native to tie for seventh at 5-under-par.
Leona Maguire tied for ninth place on the par-72 design for her second-straight top-10 finish. The senior led the Blue Devils in birdies with 13, but also made seven bogeys and a double bogey to end up at 4-under par. With Maguire posting a pair of 71’s and a 70, it marks the third time this season that she has finished under par in every round.
After tying for 15th place at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, sophomore Ana Belac finished in similar form with a tie-for-17th-place result. In similar fashion to her performance in South Carolina—when she moved up 18 spots on the final day—Belac was so-so through two rounds with a pair of 73’s, but moved 13 spots up the leaderboard Tuesday with a 68 during which she was 6-under-par during her final 10 holes, highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 16th hole.
“In her case, [the improvement] was a little bit of a mechanical adjustment,” Brooks said. “She gets a little too much movement in her lower body, and she was able to stabilize that...she looked better throughout the tournament with a stable lower body, but it took a while I think to really feel completely comfortable, so when she got into the last day, she really hit some great shots today. It was fun to watch.”
Lisa Maguire rounded out the team’s lineup with a total score of 5-over-par, putting her in a tie for 50th. The Cavan, Ireland, native’s best round came Monday, when she carded a 71 with three birdies and two bogeys, but Maguire struggled Sunday and Tuesday with rounds of 78 and 80, respectively.
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Junior Virginia Elena Carta traveled to Auburn to compete as an individual, but a nagging muscle strain in her neck and chest area returned during Saturday’s practice round, forcing her to withdraw from the event.
The Blue Devils will have nearly a month off before they tee off next at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic in Athens, Ga., April 13-15.