TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The first round of the NCAA East Regional was an up-and-down adventure for the top-seeded and third-ranked Duke women’s golf team Thursday. The Blue Devils got off to a hot start and was tied for the lead at nine-under-par, but went through a tough stretch dropping to even par, before finishing with a four-under-par, 284, with 36 holes remaining at the 6,257-yard, par 72 SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla.
Duke sits in fourth place and seven shots behind Vanderbilt, who shot collegiate course record 11-under-par, 277. Tulane (280), Virginia (283), Duke (284), NC State (286), UCF (289), Texas State (289), East Tennessee State (289), Pepperdine (290) and Florida State (290) round out the top 10 teams. The top eight teams following 54 holes will advance to the NCAA Championship.
“We were nine-under at one point, tied for the lead,” said Duke head coach Dan Brooks about the first round. “Then we went back to even and then we got back to four-under. The wind kicked up. It is a very score-able golf course, but if you think about that too much you will get in trouble. The wind kicked up and the greens are not rolling real smooth. You have to be patient or your under-par is going to disappear, which is what happened with us.”
After Duke registered a nine-under-par ledger through the front nine, the Blue Devils went through a stretch from hole 12 through 14 where Duke dropped nine shots. On the 12th hole, Duke was six-over-par with a triple-bogey and three three-putt bogeys.
As a team, the Blue Devils carded 23 birdies, including eight by Celine Boutier and seven by Yu Liu. Boutier, who is out of Montrouge, France, is second overall, after carding a season-best five-under-par, 67. Riding a three-tournament win streak, Boutier is only two shots off the individual lead of 65 held by Tulane’s Emily Penttila.
“That is one thing that I like about this golf course, is that it makes you think that way,” commented Brooks. “There are holes that are very score-able if you look at the basic layout. Then you have others that look like they would be and if you try to take advantage, and you don’t think clearly, you are going to get a big score. In fact, we got some of our highest scores on the 'easiest' holes out there.”
Boutier kicked off her day with four birdies over her first seven holes to move to four-under-par. She missed her only green of the day on the ninth hole and suffered one of only three bogeys on the day. Boutier opened the back nine with birdies on the 10th and 11th holes, before suffering a three-putt bogey on the 389-yard, par four 12th.
“I would say Celine is our best thinker out here,” said Brooks. “She doesn’t try to take too much advantage of holes that are supposed to be easier. She just plays solid golf. Look what happened, if the hole is easier she gets rewarded because it is. She is not trying to take advantage.”
She responded with birdies on No. 14 and No. 16 to get to six-under-par and one shot off the individual lead. Boutier just missed a birdie putt on the 17th, before hitting her approach on the 18th onto the top of the green for a tough, long birdie putt. She ended up with a three-putt bogey to finish with a five-under-par, 67, which was a season best for the ACC Player of the Year. Boutier hit a season-high 17 greens, 11 fairways and had 30 putts on the day.
“The course was actually pretty short because of the warm weather and the layout,” said Boutier. “Most of the par fives were reachable in two. There were a lot of short par fours so you could score really low. My irons were really good so I could hit it really close to the pin.”
Boutier’s round of 67 is the lowest 18-hole ledger score by a Duke golfer in regional play since 2007 when Amanda Blumenherst carded a 63.
Choi, who is a freshman out of San Diego, Calif., opened with birdies on her first two par fives, No. 1 and No. 4, to move to two-under-par. She suffered a three-putt bogey on the fifth hole totaling six straight pars. Choi hit No. 12 and had her second three-putt bogey of the day, before closing with six consecutive pars. She hit 14 greens, 13 fairways and had 32 putts on the day.
A product of Bogota, Colombia, Cangrejo held a one-under-par score through eight holes as she rolled in a birdie on No. 4. After a bogey on the ninth hole, Cangrejo went back to one-under-par following a great drive on the 295-yard, par four 11th hole that left her just short of the green. After the birdie putt, Cangrejo move further on the back nine and had back-to-back bogeys on No. 13 and No. 14. She had a great 21-foot birdie putt drop in the cup on the challenging 163-yard, par three 17th to get back to even, where she finished the day. Cangrejo hit 12 greens, nine fairways and had 30 putts in the first round.
Liu featured a very colorful scorecard in Thursday’s first round as she notched seven birdies, six pars, three bogeys, one double-bogey and one triple-bogey on her way to finishing with a one-over-par, 73. She opened her day with a par and then reeled off three straight birdies on the second through fourth holes to get to three-under-par. Liu, who is a native of Beijing, China, ran into trouble off the tee on the eighth hole and suffered a double-bogey, but got back to three-under-par with back-to-back birdies on No. 9 and No. 10.
On the short par four 11th, Liu tried to go for the green off the tee and ended up in the greenside bunker and suffered a bogey. She then plugged in the greenside bunker on the 12th and finished with a triple-bogey. Liu went on to bogey the next two holes to fall back to three-over-par, before closing with birdies on No. 15 and No. 16 and pars on the final two holes. She hit 13 greens, nine fairways and had 32 putts.
Senior Laetitia Beck turned in a three-over-par, 75, and is tied 70th overall following day one. On Thursday, she burned the edges of the cup all day long and finished with 33 putts, while hitting 13 greens and 10 fairways. Beck, who is from Caesarea, Israel, held a one-under-par ledger through eight holes, before going double, birdie, double and bogey to move to three-over-par through 12 holes. She closed the final six holes at even par that included a chip-in birdie on No. 18.
Duke will tee off Friday in the second round beginning at 1:11 p.m. off hole 10 along with South Carolina and Stanford.
“I think we just need to make more birdies,” commented Boutier regarding the next two days of play. “The course is really short so you can really score, but you have to be careful because some of the holes are actually pretty tricky even though they are short. You can go for the pin and not just hit the center of the green. You would think that you can go to the green by hitting your driver, but actually hitting it short of the bunkers and playing conservative golf might be more efficient. You have to be more careful with that.”