ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Boosted by a team-best even-par round of 288 Wednesday, the Duke women’s golf team moved up to finish second overall at the NCAA Regional in Albuquerque, N.M., with a 54-hole ledger of 873. With the finish, the Blue Devils advance to the NCAA Championship for the 29th time in school history and will compete May 19-24 at Rich Harvest Farm in Sugar Grove, Ill.
After starting the tournament in tied sixth, the Blue Devils moved up to fourth after 36 holes and moved up to second after the three days to finish seven shots back of Stanford (873). Duke carded rounds of 297, 288 and 288 for a nine-over, 873. Over the last 36 holes, the Blue Devils and Cardinal were tied with a 576 score at the 6,637-yard, par 72 The Championship Course at the University of New Mexico.
“We handled these conditions very well,” said Duke head coach Dan Brooks. “The last two days, particularly, to shoot even par – I couldn’t be more proud of them. It was a tough regionals and I’m glad we’re moving on.”
The other teams advancing on to the NCAA Championship were Pepperdine (879), Southern California (884), California (888) and Miami (888).
Duke freshman Ana Belac registered her first collegiate top-five finish as she posted rounds of 73, 71 and 70 for a two-under-par, 214, which was four shots off individual winner Albane Valenzuela of Stanford (210). Belac, who hails from Portoroz, Slovenia, was one of only five golfers to finish under par in the field and led the field with 13 birdies over the 54 holes of play.
“It was my first top five [finish] obviously, but I wasn’t really thinking about where I was going to place,” commented Belac. “It is just like building habits throughout the season and the hard work is starting to pay off. I think that is a good boost for confidence for nationals.”
Belac opened the day by draining a 10-foot birdie on the 160-yard, par three third hole and a 25-foot birdie on No. 4 to get to two-under-par early. She added a bogey on No. 6 and then collected key up-and-down par saves on No. 8 and No. 9 to make the turn at one-under, 35. Belac kicked off the back nine with back-to-back birdies on No. 11 and No. 12 as she drained a seven-footer and 12-footer, respectively. Over the final six holes, Belac tallied five pars and a bogey on No. 16. She tied a season best with 28 putts to go along with hitting 12 greens and eight fairways.
“It gives you a lot of confidence going to nationals knowing that we can all play well,” said Belac. “Not just one or two on the team – we are all contributing to the team.”
Junior Leona Maguire closed the regional with rounds of 75, 71 and 71 for a one-over, 217. Maguire turned in her ninth top 10 finish of the season and 19th round of even or under par as she tied for sixth overall. Maguire, a native of Cavan, Ireland, opened the day with a par on No. 1 and a very nice up-and-down par on No. 2. She then stuck her approach on No. 3 to six feet and rolled in the birdie putt. Maguire would then play the next seven holes at two-over-par with bogeys at No. 5 and No. 8, while totaling another up-and-down on No. 6.
Over the last 10 holes though, Maguire played the course at two-under-par in very high winds and cold temperatures. She notched an eight-foot birdie on the 170-yard, par three 11th hole and then nearly holed out her approach shot from 147 yards on the 365-yard, par four 17th. She went on to sink her two-inch birdie followed by a par on 18. She hit 15 greens, 11 fairways and rolled 30 putts on the final day.
In three NCAA Regionals, Maguire has placed in the top 10 in all three appearances.
After closing strong with an even-par, 72, on the final day, sophomore Virginia Elena Carta moved up into a tie for 18th with a five-over, 221, for the tournament. Carta opened the day with five pars before rolling in a five-foot birdie on No. 6, which was her first birdie since the opening round. After bogeys on No. 8 and No. 10, Carta stuck her tee shot on No. 11 to two inches from 126 yards with a half pitching wedge. She knocked it in for birdie, then had an up-and-down par on No. 12 and sank a five-foot birdie with a lot of break on No. 13. Carta, who is from Udine, Italy, would finish the day with four pars and a three-putt bogey on No. 15. She hit 15 greens, 10 fairways and had 34 putts in the final round.
With a three-over-par, 75, junior Lisa Maguire posted a key counting round Wednesday for the Blue Devils on her way to finishing in a tie for 66th. She opened the morning with Duke’s lone birdie on the par five first hole as she knocked in a 20-footer. Maguire went on to made seven straight pars, which included up-and-downs on No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8. After a double-bogey on No. 9 and a bogy on No. 10, Maguire parred the final seven holes to finish with a 75. She added up-and-down pars on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes as well. She hit eight greens, five fairways and tied a season best with 27 putts.
Senior Sandy Choi tied a season high with an 81 on her way to finishing with an 11-over, 227, for the tournament. Choi, a native of Seoul, South Korea, was held without a birdie on the day and tied a season high with 38 putts.
Duke has claimed six NCAA Championships under Brooks in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014.
“We have a short week of preparation for Illinois,” commented Brooks. “We have some northern grass growing in our facility so we are going to be getting in that. And it’s actually been good here in Albuquerque because even though you are in the south you are up high so this is northern grass. So it has been great.”
Story Credit: DUKE