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Denise Maloof | | May 20, 2015

Changes served

  Duke, looking for its seventh national championship, can win consecutive titles for the first time since 2007.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Change, announced a year ago and highly anticipated, perfumes the air of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship.

Played May 22-27 at the Jack Nicklaus-and-Tony-Jacklin-authored Concession Golf Club, this championship will be decided with new format and seen on a new television partner.

What’s not new is that reigning champion Duke returns to defend its 2014 crown, and the presence of other perennial Division I contenders.

“I love this time of year,” said Duke head coach Dan Brooks, who leads all NCAA Division I coaches with 122 tournament wins. “I think when I won’t love this time of year, it’ll be time to hang it up, but I can’t wait to get down to Florida.”

The top six teams from the four regionals played May 7-9, plus the top 12 individuals not on an NCAA finals-qualifying team, form the lineup for Friday’s opening round. Those 24 teams and 12 individual competitors will play 54 holes of stroke play.

Following the final of those four rounds, on Monday the top 15 teams plus the top-nine individuals all advance to another day of stroke play on Tuesday. The results of Tuesday’s round will determine the individual 72-hole champion. It also will cull the final 15 teams for Wednesday’s seeded match-play round that will determine the team champion.

The Golf Channel will provide live coverage of the final three rounds on Monday-Wednesday.

Sixth-ranked Duke returns seeking a seventh NCAA title and its first back-to-back since winning three consecutive Division I titles from 2005-2007. The Blue Devils beat Atlantic Coast Conference rival and No. 14 Wake Forest by three strokes to win the South Bend, Indiana regional crown. Fifth-ranked Arizona finished fourth.

In fact, it was a Blue Devil-themed weekend. Freshman Leona Maguire’s individual title in South Bend marked her second consecutive tournament victory (she has three overall this season). Junior teammate Celine Boutier finished second by one stroke.

Boutier, the 2014 Player of the Year and Division I individual runner-up, and sophomore Sandy Choi are the only returning Blue Devils from last season’s championship squad. They’ll be joined in Bradenton by a trio of talented freshmen that includes Leona Maguire, Lisa Maguire and Gurbani Singh. 

“We only have two players coming back from [last] year’s nationals, Celine and I, but we just came off winning regionals as a team and I think we all feel pretty good about that,” Choi said. “And the freshmen are playing really well.”

Leona Maguire, currently the top-ranked Division I player in Golfweek’s collegiate rankings, views Duke’s youth as a mostly good thing.

“It’s definitely a benefit that we don’t really have as much expectations and pressure on us as some other teams if we were returning five that won the national championship last year,” she said. “But then again, we don’t really know what to expect. So the upperclassmen have been key in trying to explain to us what to expect.”

One of those expectations should be a challenge from reigning Division I runner-up Southern California, which also arrives in Bradenton as a regional champion. The third-ranked Trojans led all three rounds of the St. George, Utah regional, with UNLV’s Dana Finkelstein scoring the individual victory. The 2013 NCAA champion, Southern California seeks its fourth national title and is riding a streak of five consecutive top-five NCAA finishes.

Fourth-ranked South Carolina won the Raleigh, North Carolina regional and advanced to its sixth consecutive NCAA final. The Gamecocks had to fight rallies from Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama (the 2012 NCAA champion) and No. 7 LSU in order to prevail in the final round. LSU’s Madeline Sagstrom did prevail for the individual regional title.

No. 19 Baylor faced a different script in the San Antonio regional, storming back from a four-stroke deficit to second-round leader Tennessee. The Bears eventually beat second-place and No. 2 UCLA by three strokes while No. 13 Tennessee finished third. Baylor’s Haley Davis led her team’s charge with a 7-under 65, which was good enough to secure low-medalist honors.

Top-ranked Washington finished fifth in San Antonio, thus will appear in Bradenton.

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