By Ken MacLeod
TULSA, Okla. – Duke overcame a four-shot back nine deficit with a flurry of late birdies to win its sixth national title with a two-shot victory over top-ranked Southern Cal Friday at Tulsa Country Club.
USC junior Doris Chen shot a 3-under 67 to finish at 6-under-par and edge Duke’s Celine Boutier for the individual title. Boutier closed with a 69 to finish at 4-under, one shot ahead of Stanford’s Lauren Kim. Ally McDonald of Mississippi State and Stephanie Meadow of Alabama tied for fifth at 1-under-par.
Duke, which won its first title in 1999 also at Tulsa Country Club, started the day with a six-shot advantage on the Trojans, the defending NCAA champs who won nine of 12 tournaments before the NCAA but struggled to a 24-over start the first two days in windy conditions. That lead vanished as the Trojans went a collective 10-under on the front nine to take the lead, but their momemtum stalled on the back nine. Still USC shot the tournament’s low round of 10-under 270.
Duke, which came in ranked third and with four tournament victories, was strong and steady in the closing holes. It regained the lead when Chen, 5-under through her first 10 holes, double bogeyed the 11th, combined with a run of Duke birdies. The Blue Devils led by either two or three shots over the final four holes and never relinquished the lead.
Four Blue Devils shot under par in the final round. Seniors Laetitia Beck and Alejandro Cangrejo each shot 2-under 68 while Boutier and Sandy Choi shot 69, giving the Blue Devils a 6-under 274, the tournament’s second best round. Those four made a collective 11 birdies on the back nine. Duke’s fifth starter Yu Liu shot 72. The top four scores count in each round.
Dan Brooks has coached Duke to all six of its national titles and said while he doesn’t choose between them, overcoming a team with USC’s pedigree on the back nine makes this one hard to top.
“To have this special group of people fall behind against a team like USC, knowing what they’ve done in the last several years and that they were getting their momentum, to get those birdies and come back . . . I can’t imagine one of the other championships being better.”
Second-ranked UCLA put together a closing round of 2-under par to slip past Oklahoma into third place, 15 shots behind Duke. The Sooners, who led after 36 holes in strong wind, shot a collective 1-over 281 in the final round to take fourth, three shots ahead of Arizona State. It was the highest finish in program history for Oklahoma.
Sophia Popov did what she could to bring the Trojans back, shooting the tournament’s low round of 65. Kyung Kim shot 67 and defending NCAA champion Annie Park and Karen Chung both shot 71.
“We had not played the front nine well, but today we got it figured out,” said USC coach Andrea Gaston. “We definitely had a chance and had the momentum. But Duke has an incredible team and they did not bow down to our charge. They put up some great scores and really shot well on the back nine.”
Chen made a 45-foot downhill putt on the fifth hole to help get off to a fantastic start. She rolled in a short birdie putt on the 10th hole to reach 5-under, but hit her second shot over the green on the par-4 11th and could not get back on the green with her third. She shot even par over the final eight holes.
“The putts were falling early today and that really releaxed me,” Chen said. “I didn’t stress at all until the final four or five holes.”