Sometimes the shots just don’t fall. Or, in this case, the putts don’t sink.
At this weekend’s ACC Championship at the Watersound Club’s Shark’s Tooth Course in Panama City Beach, Fla., Duke finished ninth among the 12-team field after a difficult few rounds of stroke play. The Blue Devils sat at the bottom of the table Friday at the end of the first two rounds but clawed their way up a few spots behind a 6-under final day and standout performances from senior Quinn Riley (-4) and sophomore Ian Siebers (-1).
The result, in spite of a much-improved second day of stroke play, sees Duke’s conference season come to a sudden end, just a fortnight removed from a victory at the Stitch Intercollegiate earlier this month.
The Blue Devils struggled to keep pace with a talented ACC field from the first tee Friday, as No. 7 North Carolina, No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 21 Florida State stormed out of the gates to claim four out of the top five places by the end of the first day of action. Duke’s Tobacco Road rivals, the Tar Heels, were especially relentless and had claimed a score of 29-under Friday, which improved to 35-under Saturday behind fantastic three-round performances from Peter Fountain (-13), Ryan Gerard (-8) and David Ford (-8).
The disappointing weekend will no doubt be a tough pill to swallow for the Blue Devils, but the individual efforts of Riley and Siebers should be an encouraging sign. Riley, a Raleigh native, sat within the top-20 throughout the entirety of the event and led his team in both position and score the whole way to finish 16th at four strokes below par. Siebers, hailing from Bellevue, Wash., sat second for Duke across the weekend and found himself 1-under after an impressive second-day rebound.
Impressive second-day play was a theme Saturday for the Blue Devils, who put the struggles of their first two rounds firmly to bed with a resolute and effective third-round showing. When the only way Duke could look was up come Friday evening, it pulled itself together and rose three spots to land tied for ninth with Clemson at the expense of Virginia Tech and Boston College, giving the Blue Devils an optimistic end to the weekend.
Riley and Siebers were both key pieces to that late-day optimism. The former, Duke’s top player on the weekend and a PNC Achievers Student-Athlete of the Week earlier this month, scored under par all three rounds and jumped a spot in the final day to crack the top 16. The latter, though not as statistically impressive as Riley, had a better final day than his senior teammate at 4-under. Siebers jumped a remarkable 18 places in the individual rankings Saturday to finish tied for 28th and was the primary catalyst for Duke’s second-day renaissance with his impressive showing.
Slotting into the top four was always going to be a tall task for this Duke team against an immensely talented ACC group, but an early postseason exit surely stings nonetheless. But by Saturday evening, however, the lack of hope exiting Friday's stroke play had dissipated and some swagger was back, even if the ending for the Blue Devils wasn't the comeback story head coach Jamie Green and his squad would have wanted.
Now, Duke looks forward to the rest of the postseason and the results of the NCAA Selection Show May 4.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.