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Duke women's golf blows field away to win ACC championship, Maguire claims individual title

<p>Leona Maguire ended her career as the Division I record holder for lowest average score with a minimum of 100 rounds.</p>

Leona Maguire ended her career as the Division I record holder for lowest average score with a minimum of 100 rounds.

Victory has eluded the Blue Devils all spring. Whether it be injury, illness or a poor opening round, something always seemed to get between Duke and its next win.

That changed his weekend, as everything finally clicked for the Blue Devils, and at just the right time.

Fifth-ranked Duke captured the ACC title in resounding fashion, blowing the field away with a 15-under-par performance at the Grandover Resort and Country Club’s par-72 East Course. Duke jumped out to a four-stroke lead Saturday and never relinquished it, eventually leaving second-place Florida State 27 strokes behind by the end of 54 holes as the team earned its second consecutive and 21st all-time conference championship. 

The Blue Devils were led by the one-two punch of Leona Maguire and Jaravee Boonchant that has guided them all season, with the two players jockeying for the individual crown throughout Monday's round before tying for first at 6-under-par. Maguire eventually emerged victorious in a three-hole, sudden-death playoff against her teammate to earn her third career ACC individual title.

“We’re thinking about big things this year,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks told GoDuke.com. “The conference is strong, but we felt like we needed to do well here. We need to do really well in our conference tournament to think about beating Arkansas, Alabama, UCLA—there’s some really, really good teams out there. We feel like we’re right where we ought to be, and we may even need to get a little bit better.”

Heading into the event, all eyes were on Maguire to lead her team and capture yet another individual ACC championship, and the senior positioned herself well to do both with a one-stroke lead over Boonchant through 36 holes after rounds of 67 and 70. Early in the final round, though, a sixth-hole eagle by Boonchant allowed the freshman to take the lead. 

Boonchant eventually walked off the par-5 18th with a birdie, a round of 72 and a one-shot advantage over Maguire. The senior responded on 18 with a clutch three-quarter wedge that rolled just a few feet away from the hole to match Boonchant’s birdie and force a playoff with a 73.

Boonchant—who opened with scores of 71 and 67—was on the ropes after skulling her approach shot over the green on the first playoff hole, but delivered the necessary up-and-down while Maguire missed a midrange birdie putt. The two tied again on the second playoff hole before heading to the par-4 17th hole, where Boonchant pulled her drive into a left bunker fairway. 

From there, the freshman was forced to punch out and could not reach the green in regulation, clearing the way for Maguire to capture the title with a two-putt par as Boonchant bogeyed.

“It’s been a goal of mine to win as many ACC titles as I could, and as a senior, this is my last chance,” Maguire told GoDuke.com. “I knew Jaravee was going to push me all the way today and she played some really nice golf, and I think just going out there we were both trying to play as well as we could. I guess it was nice knowing that the team title was already there and coming back to Duke either way.”

Despite the playoff loss for Boonchant, the fact that the freshman—who has yet to earn her first career win—could hold her own against one of the best, winningest and most experienced players in NCAA history shows her ability to help carry the team in the postseason.

“She’s one of those sneaky good players,” Brooks told ACC Network. “There’s nothing about Jaravee’s game that would make you think, ‘Wow, she’s going to dominate the golf course,’ or whatever, and she’s just a very sweet person. But wow, can she play. She’s a real tiger inside."

Ana Belac also posted a top-five finish, earning her best result of the spring season with a tie for third at 2-under-par. Belac set herself up well from the start, displaying solid ball striking in the opening round by hitting 15 greens in regulation to earn birdies on holes 1, 10 and 17 en route to a 2-under-par 70. Although she slipped to begin round two with a 5-over-par start through six holes, the sophomore rebounded with three birdies in her final 12 holes for a 74 before signing for another round of 70 Monday that included three birdies and a lone bogey.

Virginia Elena Carta was only playing in her second event of 2018, but still managed to earn her best finish of the season by tying for fifth. The junior struggled in the first round with six bogeys and just three birdies to post a 75, but tidied things up Sunday as she went 3-under-par on the back nine after having eight pars and one bogey on the front, good enough for a 70. The Udine, Italy, native was 3-over-par through 13 holes in the last round, but birdies on holes 13 and 17 along with an eagle on the final hole allowed Carta to finish in red numbers with a 71. 

Lisa Maguire, competing in her third ACC championship, turned in an opening-round score of 74 that counted toward the team total given Carta’s 75. The senior slipped in her final 36 holes, though, carding 10 bogeys-or-worse to just two birdies for rounds of 76 and 79 Sunday and Monday, respectively. 

The wire-to-wire win is in great contrast with the team’s other spring events—which saw the team consistently playing catch-up after slow starts—and positions the Blue Devils well heading into the NCAA Regional May 7-9. Site assignments for the next round of competition will be announced Wednesday evening on the Golf Channel.

“It’s a huge confidence-booster going into the rest of the postseason,” Maguire said. “I think we’ve maybe underachieved a little bit so far this spring, so it was really nice to get a big win here and wait and see where we’re going for regionals.”

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