For a moment Sunday, it looked like Duke would finish a scorching final round en route to a first-place finish in the ninth annual Rod Myers Invitational.

However, the comeback bid fell just short, with the Blue Devils coming up two strokes behind Penn State, finishing tied for second with North Carolina at 10-under-par 854 following three rounds over the weekend at the Duke University Golf Club.

Early in the final nine, scintillating performances from Alex Smalley and Chandler Eaton had Duke briefly on top of the three-way horse race which saw the order shuffled throughout the day. However, untimely bogeys from Eaton and Adrien Pendaries on the par-3 12th and a 5-over-par team score on the par-4 13th proved too much to overcome down the stretch.

“We talked about defending our turf last night and putting more pressure on the golf course than we did Saturday. Nobody wants to climb from too much of a deficit or from behind,” head coach Jamie Green said. “They set their jaw and it was really exciting to watch them move into position. We were in the lead for some holes down the stretch. Penn State just got more balls up-and-down and played really solid golf this week.”

Although the Blue Devils may be dissatisfied with their final standing, it was an impressive final day. The team shot an 8-under-par 280, five strokes better than the next best round of the day, carded by Florida State, which finished six strokes back from the Blue Devils in fourth place.

“Walking off, it kind of hurt because they knew a shot here or there over 54 holes and 15 hours could have been saved,” Green said. “A little sting can show the guys that we are not far off and that can be motivating. Sure, we would like to have a trophy but I think in the end, the experience will be healthy for us.”

Much like last season, when Duke regularly had one “scoring day” that saw it score significantly better than the field, Sunday’s final round allowed the Blue Devils—who finished Saturday nine strokes out the lead in third and seemingly out of reach after rounds of 288 and 286—to make some noise and put serious pressure on the Nittany Lions and Tar Heels.

“We did not drive it well in some spots during the first day, and that was the teeth of the golf course. The defense was the rough,” Green said. “We unfortunately did not keep it in the fairway and some other teams did. The numbers were out there. If you hit it in the fairway, you could definitely score.”

Eaton, who struggled to get deep in the red Saturday with rounds of 73 and 70, had a bogey-less 31 on the front nine—with three birdies and an eagle—before following with an even-par back nine to card a 67 Sunday, leaving him at 6-under-par for the tournament and alone in second in the individual standings.

“Today I just focused on doing things one thing at a time. Just focusing on the little things,” Eaton said. “I did a really great job of being patient and letting the birdies come to me. I love to putt and I am a great putter, so all I had to do was get it on the green and I was fortunate to make some putts today.”

Pendaries experienced a similar scenario as Eaton, unable to get things going on Saturday with rounds of 73 and 70 before shooting a clean 33 front nine and 36 back nine Sunday to finish at 4-under-par, tied for sixth. Smalley struggled mightily Saturday, starting the day with three straight bogeys and finishing the front nine with scores of 40 and 38 en route to two consecutive 73's. However, he was able to get his overall score into the red with six birdies Sunday, including four in a bogey-free back nine to finish overall at 1-under-par, good for 12th.

“For Alex, he did not have his best stuff this week. He mishit some shots and had to go through tough scrambling,” Green said. “For him to be able to get under par and keep going to let our team have a chance, that was phenomenal.”

Although senior Shrish Dwivedi and sophomore Qi wen Wong would probably like to have another go at their Sunday rounds, both shooting 75, they were important contributors in the first round. Both were the only Blue Devils in the starting lineup to crack par, with the pair shooting 71's to keep Duke in the hunt. Dwivedi and Wong shot 74 and 73 in the second round Saturday with the duo finishing the tournament at 4-over and 3-over, respectively, good for top-30 finishes.

“The tournament means a lot to the seniors. They play every year and I was very proud of those guys,” Green said. “I know Shrish is bummed out as he would like to play at a higher level. However, we were in the hunt coming down the stretch because of how he played. Shrish makes a huge impact on the team day in and day out by leading.”

The Blue Devils also received strong performances from their teammates, who competed as individuals—a testament to the depth of the team. The results were highlighted by Harrison Taee and Evan Katz, who had top-10 finishes.

Taee was 7-under after Saturday’s two rounds and within striking distance of the Seminoles’ John Pak, who won the individual title at 13-under following a course and tournament record 62 in the first round. However, a two-over 74 Sunday left Taee tied for third. Meanwhile, Katz, who was a member of the starting lineup that went to the NCAA semifinals last season, played consistently with rounds of 72-71-70, leaving him at 3-under and tied for ninth.

“We have got some depth. Picking the lineup or having them play into the lineup—it is not a perfect science,” Green said. “They all know the golf course and if any of them get into a comfortable rhythm, they can play well enough to get into a top-10 position.”

Duke will leave its home course next week and head to Louisville, Ky., to play in the Louisville Cardinal Challenge. 

“I honestly think we are better than last year. I am not going to predict that we make it back to the semifinals because golf is a fickle game, but we are good enough to win big tournaments,” Eaton said. “We have to take it slow and ease into the season after this good start. Everybody needs to find their form and learn in these first few tournaments, and at the end of the year, the experience matters and will help.”