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LIVE BLOG: Women’s Golf NCAA Championship

HISTORY DENIED (9:50 p.m. EST) — Duke had to go low on the last day of the NCAA Championship to win. That’s exactly what the Blue Devils did, shooting a round-best 7-under, but it wasn’t enough to capture an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Amanda Blumenherst finished 4-under, carding three birdies and an eagle in her last nine holes, to move into a tie for fifth overall. After starting 4-under through three holes, Jennie Lee finished 3-under, highlighted by her early hole-in-one. The Blue Devils will finish third at 28-over, 12 strokes behind USC. We’ll have more later tonight.

NOT IN THE CARDS? (7:54 p.m. EST) — Duke’s still 22 shots behind USC on the back nine. It’s the Blue Devils’ best day on the links, but subpar rounds on the first three days and weather stoppages look like they’re going to prevent Duke from an unprecedented fourth national title. More updates later.

PLAY RESUMES (5:37 p.m. EST) — Just got a call from Sabreena Merchant that play has just resumed at the University of New Mexico Golf Course. We’ll see if Duke can maintain its torrid pace.

NOT SO FAST: LEE, BLUE DEVILS BEGIN ASSAULT — Just when top-seeded Duke seemed out of the mix to capture its fourth-straight national championship, Jennie Lee and the Blue Devils are starting to make their run. Lee, a junior, came out and birdied her first two holes (Nos. 10 and 11) before acing the 12th to start 4-under. Thanks to Lee’s scorching start and a birdie from freshman Kim Donovan, Duke is 5-under on the day, which is best on the course. The defending champs have moved to third place at 30-over, 15 strokes behind USC and nine strokes behind UCLA.

Lightning in Albuquerque, N.M. has stopped play for the third straight day, and our beat reporter, Sabreena Merchant, is stuck on a bus with the rest of reporters on the middle of the course. Once play resumes, we’ll keep you updated and see if the Blue Devils can maintain their hot play and find a way to put the pressure on the leaders.

–by Ben Cohen

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Blumenherst’s NPOY On The Line

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Interesting sidenote to today’s action: Though Duke seems like a longshot to become four-time defending national champions now, junior Amanda Blumenherst’s candidacy as National Player of the Year is still very much on the line.

Blumenherst’s main competition for the honor is Arkansas’ Stacy Lewis. Lewis has won six tournaments this year to Blumenherst’s four, but the Blue Devil has had much stiffer competition in her victories. Currently, Lewis is in seventh at 3-over and Blumenherst is sitting in a tie for 14th at 7-over, so she needs to overtake Lewis today to make her case.

Blumenherst has never finished outside the top 10 in any tournament in her career at Duke–that’s 31 straight–but her streak is on the line today. Look for the junior to make a run to keep both the run and her candidacy alive.

–by Sabreena Merchant

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Weather Slows Blue Devils In Third Round

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a day when bad weather caused numerous breaks in play, Duke couldn’t seem to catch any breaks of its own.

Trailing USC by 15 strokes after round two, the Blue Devils put together a round of 11-over before play was finally stopped for good late Thursday night. It is currently the fifth-best round of the day, but still leaves Duke far off the lead in its bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive national title.

Junior Jennie Lee–the only Blue Devil to finish 18 holes–had her best round of the tournament, shooting a 1-over with two birdies, but lamented the fact that her rhythm was disrupted by the stoppage of play.

“I started off one hole and I had a birdie and then they called us in,” Lee said. “It was hard for me to have any momentum.”

That theme resonated with the rest of the Blue Devils on Thursday as the golfers all had difficulty finding consistency on the course due to the repeated stoppage of play. After days of above 90-degree heat, Thursday brought rain, lightning, hail, heavy winds and unexpectedly cold temperatures. Any momentum the Blue Devils managed to generate was quickly put to rest by weather intervention.

Junior Amanda Blumenherst also struggled with the layoff, double-bogeying and bogeying her first two holes after play resumed from the initial break for lightning. The two-time defending National Player of the Year has registered just one birdie in this round after knocking in four on Wednesday.

Now trailing co-leaders USC and UCLA by 18 strokes, the Blue Devils’ bid for a place in the record books appears to be nearly impossible.

It’s easy to wonder if the outcome would have been different if the weather hadn’t wreaked so much havoc. On Wednesday, when the Blue Devils resumed their round–while other teams stopped for the day–they promptly fell an additional seven strokes back of the pace. Duke might have been able to apply a lot more pressure on the leaders in the third round had it been allowed to continue its second round Thursday.

–by Sabreena Merchant

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Blue Devils Still In 15th After Day 2

Two days into the final leg of its quest for an unprecedented fourth national championship, top-seeded Duke finished Wednesday in 12th place, 15 strokes behind co-leaders USC and UCLA at the University of New Mexico Golf Course in Albuquerque, N.M. The Blue Devils were in 18th place after Tuesday, also 15 strokes off the pace.

On Wednesday, though, Duke had to deal with more than simply making golf shots. The weather wreaked havoc all day, causing two suspensions and eventually ending play early. Wind gusts exceeded 60 m.p.h. and the Blue Devils’ round lasted more than eight hours. After the first break due to high winds, Duke went into the clubhouse 16-over. Five holes later, the Blue Devils had finished the day 23-over.

“I know it is kind of the luck of the draw, but yesterday it got windy at the end and we played through it, but it wasn’t nearly like this,” said Amanda Blumenherst, who shot a 1-under to bring her two-day score to 1-over. “Those afternoon groups didn’t have to have a little break in their round and they also now might not even have to finish in this and play in calmer conditions tomorrow, where there isn’t anything you can do about it. It really isn’t fair.”

Blumenherst, in particular, was affected by the high winds. She bogeyed two of her last five holes after the break to drop to 1-over.

The Blue Devils hit the links again tomorrow, with only 36 holes to make up the necessary ground to capture their fourth straight title. We’ll have a reporter in Albuquerque keeping you up-to-date with live reports and analysis, so make sure to follow along!

by Ben Cohen

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Psychology, Physics and Jack Nicklaus

Before his team embarked on the final leg of its quest for a fourth-straight national championship, Dan Brooks and I spoke on the phone Friday about both Amanda Blumenherst and his entire team. The resulting story will appear in Thursday’s print version of The Chronicle as a pseudo-preview for the last two days of the NCAA Championship, but I wanted to share two of Brooks’ best quotes early.

I asked him whether the prospects of an unprecedented fourth straight crown has been a distraction this season, in which Duke won two spring tournaments, two fewer than its 2007 output. He responded with a lesson he learned by reading about the values and attitudes of Jack Nicklaus:

“I tell them, ‘Stay patient. Stay focused. Get good rest. And keep it in perspective.’ We’re doing a really cool thing, playing for a fourth. But really all we’re doing is, we’re just playing golf…. We’re lucky to be able to play this beautiful game. We have to let the results unfold. It’s important that you don’t consider anything more important than it actually is.”

We also talked about working with players midseason and not being afraid to tweak some kinks in a player’s game:

“We’re a developmental program,” Brooks said. “This seems kind of crazy when you’re trying to win national championships, but I think you have to. You have to be progressing. You can talk psychology all you want, but there’s physics to the game. Great psychology will never overcome poor physics. We’re always making sure it’s going—not major things, but keeping it all going.”

–by Ben Cohen

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Blue Devils 15 Strokes Back After First Day

Chasing an unprecedented fourth straight national title, top-ranked Duke sits in 18th place, 15 strokes behind Southern California at the NCAA Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.

All five Blue Devils in competition put in lackluster rounds Tuesday, the first of four days to determine the national championship. Two-time defending National Player of the Year and top-seeded golfer Amanda Blumenherst fired a 3-over 75, with two birdies, three bogeys and a double. She trails senior Jennifer Pandolfi (1-over) and junior Jennie Lee (2-over) on Duke. Freshman Kim Donovan shot a 5-over, and junior Alison Whitaker, one of the team’s strongest golfers, needs to recover from a round of 10-over in which she shot eight bogeys, a double and a triple.

Last year, Duke sat in fifth place after the first day of competition in the NCAA Championship before taking first place in day two and holding it the rest of the way. In 2006, the Blue Devils were also tied for fifth after the first day before eventually stealing the lead on the third day.

We’ll keep you updated of Duke’s progress to make it a four-peat tomorrow, and our women’s golf beat reporter will be at the University of New Mexico Golf Course Thursday and Friday to bring you live coverage.

-by Ben Cohen

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