However, despite the impressive showing by Duke, Auburn coach Kim Evans says her Tigers are excited about the challenge the Blue Devils are offering.
"We are not discouraged at all," Evans says. "In fact, we are excited. We are ready go back out on the golf course now and play."
Auburn's 881 total is 29-over-par and one shot ahead of defending national champion UCLA, four ahead of Pepperdine, and seven ahead of the University of California.
Despite a one-under-par round of 70 by Auburn's Nicole Hage, who is in fourth place individually, the Tigers weren't able to keep pace with a Duke team that got hot on a cold, damp day in Oregon.
The Blue Devils were the first team to master the Sunriver Resort golf course, shooting a six-under-par 278, 25 strokes better than their day two round and 14 better than their day one score.
Anna Grzebien led the charge for Duke with a 65 on Thursday that included seven birdies and one bogey. Teammate Brittany Lang birdied five of the final seven holes to finish at two-under-par 68.
Auburn's Hage finished the day with three birdies and two pars for her total of 70. Her 218 total of plus five is five shots off the pace set by Grzebien.
"Nicole had a great round for us," Evans says. "She held us in there today when Duke had its really strong round. We believe we can go back out there tomorrow and have our really strong round and challenge them for the championship."
The next best score for the Tigers came from freshman Abigale Schepperle, whose round of 74 included two birdies, three bogies and a double bogey. Evans says she liked the way that Schepperle played steady golf after not getting off to a great start.
Freshman Margaret Shirley finished with a 75 with one birdie and five bogeys. Evans says that Shirley recovering from a bad start is another reason why the Tigers are still in the hunt for their first ever NCAA team golf title.
Diana Ramage tries to take advantage of a sunny stretch of weather, but misses the birdie putt. Friday's forecast is for better weather than the first three days that were cold, wet and windy.
The four lowest rounds count in the team total. Senior Diana Ramage, who shared the lead after two rounds, finished a disappointing day three round of 76 to drop into a tie for 12th at 220. She finished with a birdie to move the Tigers into second place, breaking a tie with defending champion UCLA. She had two birdies, four bogeys and one double bogey in round three.
Auburn did not have to count the 77 from junior Maria Martinez, who had rounds of 71 and 72 the first two days and was fifth going into day three. She is tied for 22nd at 222.
Schepperle had a 223 total going into the final round and Shirley is tied for 90th at 233.
"I am real optimistic we are going to play well on Friday and I think the players are, too," she says. "There are a lot of great teams near us like Pepperdine and UCLA, but we are looking forward to competing against them and Duke. We are in the final group of the top three teams going into the last round and that is where we want to be."