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Duke’s Virginia Elena Carta Wins NCAA Title; Blue Devils Advance to Match Play

EUGENE, Ore. – Duke University freshman Virginia Elena Carta capped off a very impressive four days at the 6,331-yard, par 72 Eugene Country Club by becoming the fourth Blue Devil to win a NCAA title with a NCAA-record 72-hole ledger of 16-under-par, 272.

Carta, who hails from Udine, Italy, carded rounds of 69, 68, 66 and 69 over the 72 holes to win her first collegiate event and became only the eighth freshman in NCAA history to win the NCAA title. She won the championship by a NCAA-record eight shots and closed play with only one bogey over her final 53 holes. Her 16-under-par score along with the 72-hole total of 272 were both new NCAA records.

“I mean, of course this experience was just awesome and great,” said Carta. “My long game was really, really good the first three days. Today I struggled a little bit because I was really nervous, but my putter has always been with me and made the difference. I scored really well because I was making a lot of putts. I’m really excited. I still can’t believe I won. I’m so proud of also the team, and I want to say also thanks to the team and the coaches. They are just great, both Coach [Dan Brooks] and John [Whithaus]. They are awesome.”

Other Blue Devils to win an individual NCAA Championship were Candy Hannemann (2001), Nirapathpongporn (2002) and Anna Grzebien (2005). Carta joins Grzebien as winners in the state of Oregon (Sunriver, Ore.). Carta is also the 24th Duke University student-athlete to win a NCAA title.

“It is great and especially her,” said Duke head coach Dan Brooks. “Virginia is a fantastic team member. It is great to have somebody like her play that well.”

As a team, Duke finished sixth in stroke play on its way to advancing to match play Tuesday morning where the Blue Devils will face third-seeded Southern California beginning at 10 a.m. (ET). Follow the action with live coverage via the Golf Channel from 1:30-3:30 p.m. and 6:30-10 p.m. (ET).

UCLA finished first with an eight-under, 1144, while Stanford (1147), Southern California (1150), Washington (1152), Virginia (1155), Duke (1158), South Carolina (1162) and Oregon (1166).

“We wanted to get the No. 1 seed,” said Brooks. “I think we are a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get that, but we are in match play so it could be a lot worse. We are going to do our best and get after it.”

The Blue Devils featured a great start to the day that boosted Duke into the team lead by 5:55 p.m. (ET), but were limited to only one birdie on the back nine to fall into sixth. The top eight teams advanced to match play.

After totaling a NCAA-record 54-hole score of 203 through Sunday’s play, Carta held a six-stroke lead heading into the final day. She concluded the action with an eight-shot victory over Dewi Weber of Miami and Haley Moore of Arizona, who finished with an eight-under, 280.

With cameras following her every move the last two days, Carta didn’t let it bother her and jumped out to quick start Monday with four birdies on the front nine. She drained a 40-foot putt on the third hole and then holed out from the fourth hole for birdies. Carta added an eight-foot birdie on No. 7 and then sank a 25-foot birdie on No. 9 to make the turn at four-under, 33.

Carta headed into the 152-yard, par three 11th with 46 straight holes without a birdie, but the rookie suffered a three-putt to fall back to three-under. She went on to grind her way through the final seven holes with all pars. Carta had a key up-and-down for par on No. 16 from the rough.

“It means a lot,” commented Carta on winning the NCAA title as a freshman. “As I said, I would have never thought to win this tournament, especially as a freshman. Now my expectations are going to be high. But I mean, it has been a great year. I’ve been working really hard also with the team, and we’ve been working so much, so I’m just excited that the work paid off and that my putter finally worked, too.”

She became the first freshman to earn her first collegiate win at NCAAs since 1998. Carta played the front nine at 12-under-par for the week and led the field with 20 birdies. She closed her season with her fifth straight top 10 placement.

“She is strong, she hits it straight and she is flying it high onto these greens,” commented Brooks on what led to Carta’s success this week. “They actually firmed up a little bit today so that probably helped her. She’s got the whole game. She has a lot of passion. All we do is just kind of calm her down.”

Dealing with some type of illness, sophomore Leona Maguire struggled all day finishing with a six-over-par, 78. She placed tied 32nd overall with a three-over, 291. Maguire suffered back-to-back bogeys on No. 1 and No. 2 and then had a double-bogey on No. 6 to fall back to four-over. She connected on her lone birdie of the day on the 331-yard, par four eighth, but finished the round with three bogeys on the back. Maguire, who is from Cavan, Ireland, had chances for birdies on the way in but couldn’t get them to drop.

Signing for her third straight even or under par round was junior Sandy Choi, who closed with a 72 Monday. Choi, a native of Seoul, South Korea, carded rounds of 78, 71, 71 and 72 for a four-over, 292, to finish tied for 36th.

Choi opened with a par and bogey on her first two holes, before going on a hot streak. She went on to birdie three straight holes from No. 3-5 and moved to 2-under for the day. Choi missed the green on No. 7 and suffered a bogey, made a good up-and-down par on No. 8 for par and then had a bogey on No. 9 to make the turn at even-par, 37. Choi reeled off seven consecutive pars on the back nine and then sank a short birdie on No. 17, which was Duke’s only birdie on the back nine. On her final hole, her par putt rolled all the way around the cup, but would not fall in and she had a bogey. She hit 12 fairways, 11 greens and had 29 putts.

Sophomore Gurbani Singh finished the week with a 77 and placed tied 76th with a 306. Singh, who is from New Delhi, India, had a great start to her round with a birdie on No. 2. After missing the green on No. 4, Singh collected a bogey to drop to even par. Another birdie on the 474-yard, par five seventh moved her back to one-under. Singh suffered a double-bogey on No. 9 and then had four straight bogeys from holes 12-15 on her way to finishing with a 77.

Senior Celine Boutier concluded Monday’s action with a 79. She was only four-over-par through 14 holes, but a triple-bogey on the 510-yard, par five 15th moved her back to seven-over. Boutier, a product of Montrouge, France, closed with three consecutive pars.

The Golf Channel will provide live coverage Tuesday from 1:30-3:30 p.m., and 6:30-10 p.m. (ET). Fans can also follow the action via www.GolfStat.com and www.twitter.com/Duke_WGOLF.

Notes:

  • Virginia Elena Carta broke the lowest score to par record by four strokes. The previous mark was Caroline Hedwall of Oklahoma State (2010) and Penny Hammel of Miami (1983) at 12-under.
  • Carta held the largest margin of victory at the Women’s NCAA Championship dating back to 2000. It broke Annie Park’s record of six from 2013. Duke holds two of the top three on the list as Virada Nirapathpongporn won by five in 2002.
  • Carta joined the likes of Annie Park (USC, 2013), Austin Ernst (LSU, 2011), Jennifer Rosales (USC, 1998), Marissa Baena (Arizona, 1996), Charlotta Sorenstam (Texas, 1993), Vicki Goetze (Arizona, 1992) and Annika Sorenstam (Arizona, 1991) as freshman to win the NCAA title.
  • Three of the four Duke NCAA individual champions have come on the West Coast as Nirapathpongporn won in Auburn, Wash., and Grzebien won in Sunriver, Ore.
  • Duke advanced to match play for the second straight season.
  • Earlier this season in the East Lake Cup, Southern California defeated Duke, 4-1, in match play.
  • As a team, Duke played the back nine Monday at eight-over-par and shot a tied for team worst eight-over, 296. This came a day after shooting eight-under, 280.