STILLWATER, Okla. – In their best-ever NCAA Championship round performance, the Duke Blue Devils dominated their way to the top of the leaderboard, shooting a sensational 276 (-12) to move them to 10-under for the tournament heading into Monday’s final round of stroke play.
Shattering the program’s previous low 18 at the NCAA Championships (four-under 284 third round in 2006), Duke also put forth one of its best efforts of the season, rivaling a handful of rounds from earlier this spring; specifically, the second rounds of the Stitch Intercollegiate (-18), the ACC Championship (-12) and the Raleigh NCAA Regional (-12).
More impressively, Duke set the new Karsten Creek course record for 18 holes, topping Alabama’s nine-under 279, a feat accomplished just yesterday.
In addition to setting a new record for 18 holes, the Blue Devils surpassed previous program lows for 36 and 54-hole performances in the NCAA Championship, which, prior to this week, were 586 (+10) and 871 (+7), respectively.
Freshman Evan Katz had his best round of the tournament, shooting a four-under 68 as Duke’s low man after combining for six-over par through his first two days. The Washington D.C. local was bogeyless through 18 on Sunday, snaring four birdies in the process. Three of those came within his first nine holes, including back-to-back on 17 and 18. With the 68, Katz landed himself on the list of individual low rounds for Duke in NCAA Championship play, tying John Karcher (1990) for third lowest.
“Last two days, obviously the score wasn’t as good, but all the parts of my game were there,” noted Katz. “I was hitting it well, just getting to know the golf course a little better, getting used to the faster greens here. I continued to hit it in better spots and give myself more looks from the fairway.”
Seeing a great deal of color on his card, Chandler Eaton fought to earn himself an impressive three-under 69 after opening up play with a bogey on 10. The sophomore would collect three more birdies through the remainder of his first nine holes, including consecutive makes on 13 and 14. Eaton proceeded to reel in an eagle on 18, leaving at him four-under par heading to the turn. Three birdies, two bogeys and a double would be the result of the final stretch for Eaton, pushing his overall score to four-under.
“This is what we practice for, and this is what we play for,” said Eaton. “That’s a cool thing that we showed up and got after it. Even though I’m physically exhausted and mentally exhausted, I found it somewhere inside me to put in a lot of effort, so I’m thrilled.”
Adrien Pendaries befriended the eagle once again on Sunday, making his second of the tournament on No. 1 shortly after making the turn. Securing three birdies in addition—combined with two bogeys on the day—gave Pendaries a three-under 69 for his third round, moving him to one-over for the championship.
“I think I was playing really good golf on the front nine, I just wasn’t really capitalizing on the opportunities,” admitted Pendaries. “I turned at one under, playing some really good golf. It’s obviously really nice to shoot a 69 on a day like this. It’s a pretty tough golf course, and any time you can get under par you’re happy. Since the start of the week, we haven’t really put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and today we did, so hopefully we can keep doing that. We have full trust in each other that we’re going to go out and play a good round of golf, so we just have to execute now.”
Alex Smalley used a bogeyless first nine holes to catapult him to a two-under 70, a round that would feature five birdies for the junior. Smalley would find birdie on 12 and 18, and then another three times after the turn to negate three bogeys.
“Today I hit the fairways and the greens, so I gave myself chances which was nice compared to the first day where it was a little rough at the start,” said Smalley. “Played pretty solid all front nine...I got to 18 green and I looked at the scoreboard and I think we were 11-under through nine holes and the back is, I think, the tougher nine so it was really cool to see that everyone was playing really well. Guys stepped up today, and we’ll see if we can do it again tomorrow.”
Senior Jake Shuman concluded his day with an even 72, carding a pair of birdies to level out two bogeys. The veteran maintained level-headedness throughout, improving greatly on Sunday by shaving off nine strokes from his 81 (+9) effort on Saturday.
Head coach Jamie Green spoke on his team’s performance following the record-setting round, and how he plans to approach the tournament moving forward.
“We’re not changing gameplans; however, I think at the same time, we did adjust some things for today,” said Green. “On certain holes, maybe hitting 3 wood instead of driver just because of the way the wind was blowing. So, I can’t say that we won’t make adjustments because it’s going to depend on hole location. It’s going to depend on wind, or if they happen to move a tee or two. So sure, there may be some subtle adjustments there, but in terms of overall approach, no. Nothing’s going to change at all. These guys have done an excellent job really all year just getting better and better at it – building on something that happened before. It was a nice day out there, and it was fun to watch.”
Having made the cut as one of the top 15 teams after three rounds of stroke play, Duke will advance to Monday’s stroke play round.
The schools that finish in the top eight on Monday will then move on to Tuesday, where they will begin match play with coverage on the Golf Channel.