ATLANTA, Ga. – Senior Alex Smalley drained a birdie putt on the 18th hole allowing No. 3 Duke to clinch the No. 1-seed for the Match Play semifinals at the 2018 East Lake Cup, which began Monday at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
The Blue Devils were three-under as a team Monday, two strokes clear of No. 1 Oklahoma State for the top spot. Duke will face No. 14 Auburn (+8 Monday) in Tuesday’s Match Play semifinal, while Oklahoma State (-1) will face No. 4 Alabama (+5) in the other. The two winners square off in the championship match Wednesday.
“It’s special for these guys (to be the No. 1 seed tomorrow),” said head coach Jamie Green. “Because hopefully they can bounce with a little confidence knowing they can play the golf course well. In the end, it (match play) is a different animal. You just have to go play the golf course, and whatever the numbers shake out to be it would be nice to have a victory.”’
The East Lake Cup brings together the four men’s teams that were semifinalists at last year’s NCAA Championship. Golf Channel will air live coverage Tuesday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET.
Smalley and junior Chandler Eaton each posted rounds of three-under 69 on Monday and were tied for second place. Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hoveland won the stroke play event at four-under 68. Sophomore Adrien Pendaries was one-under for Duke to share fourth place.
“I saw a lot of the golf course off the tee today unfortunately,” said Smalley. “But I scrambled really well. My putting saved me today because I didn’t hit a lot of fairways. Out here you don’t want to miss fairways because the rough is penial. I felt good on the range; I felt good on the putting green, and I knew if I could keep the nerves down, I’d have a chance to be up there.”
Sophomore Evan Katz carded a four-over 76, while senior Shrish Dwivedi was seven-over 79.
Pendaries will be out in Tuesday’s first match versus Auburn’s Trace Crowe (+2 on Monday) at 11:05 a.m. The second match features Dwivedi versus Jacob Solomon (+3) 11:25 a.m. Katz plays in the third match versus Jovan Rebula (even) at 11:45 a.m.
Eaton and Smalley will play in the final two matches at 12:05 p.m. and 12:25 p.m., respectively, with Eaton battling Brandon Mancheno (+8) and Smalley squaring off with Wells Padgett (+3).
“You can’t show up here unless you’ve got a good team,” said Green. “Obviously this field is based on last year’s final four, so you can’t take any team for granted. We’re looking forward to playing Auburn and our guys will be up to the challenge.”
Three of Smalley’s five birdies came on the back nine Monday, including both par-5’s on the home half. The Wake Forest, N.C., native, rolled in a birdie on the 14th and sank the clutch 12-footer on the 18th that clinched the top seed for Duke.
“If you look up Mr. Clutch in the dictionary you’ll probably find him (Smalley),” said Green. “If it’s a tee shot on the last hole, or a big putt – you can’t be the medalist at the U.S. Amateur like he was and do the things that he does, unless you thrive in those moments.”
Eaton, who grew up nearby in Alpharetta, Ga., but had yet to play East Lake, jumpstarted his round with an eagle on the par-5 first and began the back-nine birdie-birdie on his way to posting a 69. Pendaries went out in 34, including a birdie-birdie start to his day and rolled in a key birdie on the par-3 17th on his way to a 71.
Live scoring on Tuesday can be found at golfstat.com.