During their last event, the Blue Devils started off slow and never really improved, remaining static on the leaderboard for the final 36 holes.
This time around, the team struggled yet again from the outset, but did display steady improvement as the event progressed. Still, though, it wasn’t enough to overcome a poor opening round as the team left Hilton Head, S.C., empty-handed.
For the second tournament in a row, No. 4 Duke was marred by a sluggish start, as the team’s 11-over-par Friday score of 295 at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate left it in a nine-stroke deficit to No. 2 Alabama that would prove too large to overcome. The Blue Devils loosened up to the par-71 Long Cove Club as time passed, carding a score of 296 in difficult conditions Saturday and tying for the lowest Sunday score with a 288, but the Crimson Tide never let Duke get within arm’s length of victory, as the Blue Devils settled for fourth place at 27-over-par.
“I come out with a positive feeling about it and I think they’re going to buckle down and work hard and clean up some of the little stuff,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “We’re a team that has all the shots and things are working pretty well, but it’s easy to let scores slip away. We just need to get a little bit tougher and just make sure you get the score. It just takes some toughness that way. That’s where we need to get a little better.”
After a season-worst finish at February’s Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, Jaravee Boonchant bounced back to nearly match her career’s best result, as the freshman tied for sixth with a three-day, 4-over-par ledger of 217. The freshman opened with three birdies and three bogeys Friday to notch a 71, but faltered on two holes Saturday—the par-3 second hole and the par-4 11th—where double bogeys led to a final score of 75.
Boonchant returned to her first-round form Sunday with another 71 that featured birdies on holes six, seven and 15 along with three bogeys.
Brooks was particularly impressed with the way Boonchant handled herself both against windy course conditions—which were most prominent Saturday—and the course’s unfamiliar overseeded poa trivialis greens.
“She’s a smart player,” Brooks said. “She has a really good putting stroke. These greens—we’re not used to playing overseeded greens...so I think that she benefits from having a very good putting stroke and handled these greens pretty well. She just has a lot of game. We had wind blowing, and so she had to chip and putt plenty, because it’s a tough course and the wind made it challenging, but she shot some pretty good numbers.”
Two-time National Player of the Year Leona Maguire was the second-best Duke player this week, finishing one stroke behind Boonchant at five-over-par. On Friday, the Cavan, Ireland, native posted four bogeys against three birdies, as she hit 15 greens and 11 fairways—good for a 72—but like Boonchant, Maguire slipped a bit against Saturday’s gustier conditions, turning in a lone birdie and four bogeys for a 74. The senior’s scorecard was less eventful Sunday, as she had just two bogeys and one birdie en route to another 72 and a 10th-place finish.
Like Boonchant, Ana Belac was coming off of a season-worst result in last month’s event, but showed impressive and steady improvement in Hilton Head as she tied for 15th. After turning in the team’s highest score through 18 holes with a 77 and opening her second round at 3-over-par through just nine holes, the sophomore cleaned things up and vaulted herself up the leaderboard by playing her final 27 holes at 2-under-par.
Belac’s Sunday round of 69 that included a birdie and eagle compared to just one bogey was the lowest of any Duke golfer at the Pete Dye design, and was a materialization of her recent efforts to return her swing to the more compact position that yielded success in the fall.
“She got it going today, and it did come down to ball-striking, just a firmer, more compact swing,” Brooks said. “She found out she just needed to stabilize her lower body a little bit more, and that got her swing synced up well.”
Alabama’s win—spearheaded by medalist Maria Fassi’s 3-under-par ledger—follows its second-place finish at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge and marks the second time the team has bested Duke this spring by at least 13 shots, flipping the script on the narrative written during the fall, when the Blue Devils beat the Crimson Tide by one stroke in two consecutive events to close 2017.
Among ACC teams, Wake Forest finished ahead of Duke by one shot while North Carolina tied for seventh and No. 19 Virginia came in last place.
Freshman Miranda Wang finished fourth among Blue Devils with a score of 13-over-par that put her in a tie for 40th. Wang, who hails from Beijing, posted her best round of the week Saturday by turning in a 73, but struggled Friday and Sunday with rounds of 76 and 77, respectively, during which she combined for 13 bogeys-or-worse and just three birdies.
Lisa Maguire finished close behind Wang with a 14-over-par total. After opening the event with a 76, the senior had a team-best 27 putts during Saturday’s round, but three bogeys on her final three holes led to Maguire turning in a 75. In her final round, Maguire had two birdies and four bogeys, but triple-bogeyed the par-4 14th to force another 76.
The Blue Devils will tee off next at the Auburn University Golf Club in Auburn, Ala., March 18-20 for the Evans Derby Experience.
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