STILLWATER, OK -- Duke posted the low round of the day with a five-over 293 to finish eighth overall and reach the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club. Freshman Austin Cody posted an even-par 72 on Thursday to help the Blue Devils climb four spots to grab the final spot in match play.
"It has been our goal all year to get into match play and have a chance to compete for the NCAA Championship," said sophomore Brinson Paolini. "We are really looking forward to going out there and doing our best. After playing as well as we did at the [Callaway Collegiate] Match Play we have a lot of match play momentum, a lot of good vibes going and we are really looking forward to tomorrow. We can't wait to get out there."
UCLA overtook first and second round leader Georgia Tech on Thursday to claim medalist honors and grab the top-seed in match play with an eight-over 872. The Yellow Jackets were second with an 11-over 875 followed by host Oklahoma State (+15. 879), Illinois (+15, 879), Georgia (+20, 884), Ohio State (+23, 887), Augusta State (+24, 888) and Duke (+25, 889). The Blue Devils were seven shots better than ninth-place finisher Texas A&M on Thursday to grab the final match-play spot by one stroke. Iowa and Michigan finished three shots out of match play at +28, 892.
"They deservedly had a lot of confidence going into today's round with how they have played this spring in a lot of similar situations," said head coach Jamie Green. "When the guys saw the weather forecast and that the wind was going to blow, they were licking their chops. They knew this was going to be a tough golf course to make up a lot of ground with birdies, but when the wind starts blowing and the golf course plays tough and the greens are firm then all of a sudden par becomes a really good score. We all knew that if we were in position to make up a bunch of ground it was going to be when the conditions were tough. That shows and awful lot about our guys resolve and focus. They were exceptional, especially coming down the stretch."
The Blue Devils got off to slow start with five bogeys on their first hole, the 477-yard, par 4 10th. The four counting scorers recovered to play the remaining 17 holes at one-over to post the low round in a final round of a tournament for the fifth time this season.
"No. 10 is about 470 yards and playing dead into a 20-25 mile per hour wind when you tee off," said Green. "To be honest after I saw ball after ball after ball from our guys land in the middle of the fairway I knew these guys were ready to go. That was a golf hole that gave the whole field fits and I wasn't real worried about a bogey. You don't want to start out with a bogey but on a hole like that it is probably a par 4 1/2. Our guys went in their calm and handled the situation they had in front of them. More importantly our guys accepted whatever the hole was going to yield and took advantage of the holes that they could."
Cody opened the round with a bogey on No. 10 and slipped to two-over following a bogey on the par 5 14th hole before settling in. The North Charleston, S.C., native carded a birdie on the par 3 15th hole and added a birdie on No. 17 (par 4) to get to the turn at even-par. He dropped a stroke with a bogey on No. 3 (par 3) but recovered with a birdie on the par 4 sixth hole. He capped off the round with three straight pars to finish off stroke play tied for 66th with a 10-over 226.
Sophomore Julian Suri posted another solid round with a one-over 73 on Thursday. He got off to the rocky start with bogeys on No. 10, No. 11 and No. 17. He carded a birdie on the par 5 18th hole and added another birdie on No. 5 (par 4) to get back to one-over. Suri dropped a stroke with a birdie on No. 6 but capped off the round with a crucial birdie on the par 5 ninth hole. His birdie on the closing hole moved the team into the eighth slot overall and put pressure on Texas A&M and Iowa, who were also battling for the final spot in match play. Suri closed stroke-play tied for 81st with a 12-over 228.
Brinson Paolini fired a two-over 74 in the final round to finish tied for 13th with a two-over 218. After a bogey on No. 10, he birdied the par 3 11th hole and par 4 13th hole to get to one-under. He suffered back-to-back bogeys on No. 16 and No. 17 before getting back to even-par with a birdie on the par 5 first hole. The sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va. had a double-bogey on No. 4 before closing with five straight pars. Paolini's tie for 13th finish is Duke's best finish since a tie for 10th by Ryan Blaum in the 2005 NCAA Championship.
Sophomore Tim Gornik also carded a two-over 74 in the final round. He bogeyed No. 10 and had a double-bogey on No. 16 but carded birdies on both par 5s (No. 14 & No. 18) on his opening nine holes to make the turn at one-over. The Ljubljana, Slovenia, native suffered bogeys on No. 2 and No. 4 to slip to three-over but added a birdie on the par 4 fifth hole to get back to +2. Gornik went on the par the final four holes and end stroke play tied for 29th with a five-over 221.
Senior Wes Roach had three birdies on Thursday but ran into trouble over the final eight holes en route to a season-high 83. He finished stroke play tied for 125th with a 236.
John Peterson (LSU) claimed individual medalist honors with a five-under 211, one shot better than UCLA's Patrick Cantlay. Five players finished tied for third at one-under as only seven players finished the tournament under-par.
Duke opens match play on Friday at 11 am against UCLA. The Blue Devils are 5-0 in match play this season, including the team title at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship.
"These guys love playing match play and that showed down there in Georgia [at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship]," Green added. "It is a great environment to cheer each other on and fist-pump and high-five. On this golf course you can't see a lot from hole-to-hole, but you can hear if a guy is pretty pumped up. There are a couple of places where you can see each other and you can keep each other alive and in good spirits. That is the exciting thing about match play with a team. We really like this environment and format."
Duke vs. UCLA - Opening Round Match Play Pairings - off No. 1
11:00 am - Austin Cody (Duke) vs. Alex Kim (UCLA)
11:09 am - Julian Suri (Duke) vs. Pedro Figueiredo (UCLA)
11:18 am - Wes Roach (Duke) vs. Gregor Main (UCLA)
11:27 am - Tim Gornik (Duke) vs. Pontus Widegren (UCLA)
11:36 am - Brinson Paolini (Duke) vs. Patrick Cantlay (UCLA)
Other Opening Round Matches
11:45 am - Illinois vs. Georgia
12:30 pm - Georgia Tech vs. Augusta State
1:15 pm - Oklahoma State vs. Ohio State
*** With a tie for 13th finish, Paolini receives honorable mention All-America status for the first time in his career ... he is the first Blue Devil All-America since 2007
*** Paolini now has seven top 20 finishes this season, tied with Gornik and Roach for most on the team.
*** Duke reaches the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship for the first time since the tournament was moved to that format in 2009.
*** Roach closes his Duke stroke-play career ninth overall with 130 stroke-play rounds played ... he is also seventh with 45 career stroke-play tournament competed in.
*** Paolini finished tied for first in par 3 scoring at four-under (2.67) ... Roach was tied for fourth in par 3 scoring at two-under (2.83).
*** Gornik was tied for sixth with 37 pars for the tournament ... he also ranked among the tournament leaders in par 5 scoring at five-under (4.58).
*** Suri enter tomorrow's match with UCLA 5-0 in match play this season ... Cody boasts a 4-0-1 mark, while Paolini and Roach 4-1 in match play ... Gornik is 2-2 in match play competition.