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Duke men's golf sets program-records, earns No. 2 seed in match play of NCAA championship

<p>Duke men's golf used a dominant day three of stroke play en route to a second-place finish.</p>

Duke men's golf used a dominant day three of stroke play en route to a second-place finish.

On the biggest stage of college golf, Duke’s performance was emblematic of many trends that defined its season.

In the middle rounds, the Blue Devils rocketed up the leaderboard, shooting some of the lowest scores of the tournament, before struggling on the final 18.

After moving up seven spots in the second round, and three in the third, Duke found itself in first place, three strokes ahead of No. 1 Oklahoma State heading into the final round on Memorial Day. But a challenging fourth round on a difficult Karsten Creek Country Club in Stillwater, Okla., left the Blue Devils in second place at 8-over-par 1160—eight strokes behind the Cowboys—easily good enough to move onto the match-play portion of the tournament. 

In the scintillating third round, Duke shot a course record on the par-72, 7,460-yard track that saw the champion in 2003 shoot 39-over-par. The Blue Devils, who reached 15-under at one point Sunday, finished at 12-under 276, besting No. 6 Alabama’s record 279 set the day before. With the performance, Duke set program records for lowest 36-hole and 54-hole scores in the NCAA championship, shattering the previous marks by eight and 17 strokes, respectively. 

“We’re not changing gameplans, however, I think at the same time, we did adjust some things for today. On certain holes, maybe hitting 3 wood instead of driver just because of the way the wind was blowing. So, I can’t say that we won’t make adjustments because it’s going to depend on hole location,” head coach Jaime Green told after Sunday's round. “So sure, there may be some subtle adjustments there, but in terms of overall approach, no, nothing’s going to change at all. These guys have done an excellent job really all year just getting better and better at it—building on something that happened before. It was a nice day out there, and it was fun to watch.”

Freshman Evan Katz paced the Blue Devils for the day, carding a bogeyless 4-under 68. Meanwhile, Adrien Pendaries and Chandler Eaton both had eagles to their name en route to 3-under performances, besting Alex Smalley—who had five birdies—by one stroke. Senior Jake Shuman, who signed off on an even-par 72, had his score dropped on a terrific day for Duke, which wore its lucky blue-and-white striped “band shirts.” 

“There were a couple of times I looked at the scores, and I was like, ‘Wow,’” Green said. 

“Every tournament, we have a really low round,” the senior Shuman added. “It was just a matter of which day it was going to be.”

The Blue Devils were primed for success after a strong second round that left them tied for fourth. Using a 1-under 287, they moved up from 11th and positioned themselves in contention to advance to the fourth round of stroke play—which takes only the top 15 teams following the first 54 holes of action.

Smalley and Eaton both carded four birdies to the lead the team with 3-under and 1-under performances, respectively. Pendaries, who triple bogeyed the 500-yard par-four 17th, bounced back with an eagle on 18 to salvage a 1-over 73. Katz rounded out the scoring for the day with a 2-over 74 and four birdies to his name.

Moving up in the second round has become a tradition for this squad. Most notably, the team jumped seven spots in the NCAA regional in Raleigh on day two in their previous tournament, after shooting up five spots in the ACC championship the contest before. 

“They are a smart golf team. They are studious. After a practice round or a first day, they learn. They do not just sit back and hope it goes well tomorrow. They know why it would go well tomorrow,” Green said. “That is the way you’re going to compete at this championship. You got to get through every day. Every little bump in the road, you got to just be able to survive it.”

However, Duke could not keep up the momentum in the final round of the 72-hole tournament. No player finished under par, as high numbers riddled the scorecards throughout the day. Although Pendaries played the front nine at 2-under, two double bogeys in the final three holes left him at 3-over for the day, leading the team. Katz and Eaton were both unable to get things going, finishing at 4-over, while Smalley and Shuman combined for four double-bogeys and one triple bogey en route to 7-over 79 finishes, closing the team score at 18-over 306.

“The guys played with a lot of poise,” Green said. “The golf course was definitely playing pretty tough today. Yes, [our score] was higher, there is no doubt about it from what we did yesterday, but again, I will go back to poise—the guys really collected themselves when they needed to. They have worked really hard to be in this position.”

Early in the fall season, the Blue Devils struggled to close tournaments, dropping eight places in both the Nike Collegiate Invitational and Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate. But with its second-place finish, Duke punched its ticket to the eight-team match play bracket for the first time since 2011, when it fell to Georgia in the semifinals. 

The tournament opened with rain and a weather delay, an atmosphere that matched the Blue Devils' start. Beginning on hole 10, the team played the par-four at 6-over, setting them back early in the contest. However, the scoring players combined to play the front nine at 3-under, leading Duke to a solid 3-over 291 start. 

“One thing you don’t want in a national championship is a roller coaster,” noted Green. “Some things you definitely can’t control. You can’t do anything about the weather. We had lightning strikes as we were waking up in the morning. I like the fact that our guys are ready for anything and expect nothing. They’re planning on success, but they’re not expecting it to be a certain way, and I think that’s the way you have to approach a national championship—be ready for anything.”

On the individual leaderboard, Auburn's Brandon Mancheno won the title at 7-under. Eaton, who shot even-par overall, finished tied for 15th. Smalley and Pendaries closed at 4-over, tied for 32nd. Meanwhile Katz found himself alone in 36th, two strokes behind his teammates. Shuman had an up-and-down tournament, with rounds of 70-81-72-79, leaving him in 65th at 14-over.

The Blue Devils will look to keep the momentum in the match play starting Wednesday. Receiving the No. 2 seed for their finish, they will play seventh-seeded Texas Tuesday morning. If Duke defeats the Longhorns, who finished at 16-over for the tournament, it will advance to play the winner No. 3 seed Texas Tech and No. 6 Alabama Tuesday afternoon.

The match play format is a head-to-head contest with each of the five Blue Devil players facing off against their Texas counterparts. Eaton will lead off against Spencer Soosman—who shot 11-over—followed by Smalley vs. Scottie Scheffler, who finished sixth at 4-under. Katz will compete against Steven Chervony, whom he bested by 10 strokes, while Pendaries will compete against Drew Jones, who finished last among finishing players at 29-over. Shuman will close the match against No. 8 Doug Ghim, who closed the tournament one stroke away from the individual championship. 

“They are psyched, and they are hungry," Green said. "Seven o’clock is going to come a little bit early, but hopefully it’s a very long day with a couple of matches.”


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