GB&I takes surprising 7-5 lead at Walker Cup
Saturday, September 10, 2011
ABERDEEN, Scotland - Nigel Edwards is in dreamland.
If you’d told the Great Britain & Ireland captain before the match that he’d take a two-point lead into second day of the 43rd Walker Cup, then he probably would have screamed 'Hallelujah' at the top of his lungs.
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Edwards’ teams leads 7-5 after the first day’s play. After winning the morning foursomes session 3-1, the two sides split the afternoon singles to give the home team the advantage. Edwards and his 10-man team stand on the threshold of winning the match for the first time since 2003.
“The boys were under pressure today and had a little wobble in the middle (of the singles) but they knuckled down and done the job,” Edwards said.
U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve said his players were fired up for the afternoon singles. At times they seemed red hot. In fact, the U.S. would have won the singles 5-3 if not for Patrick Rodgers gifting 17-year-old Rhys Pugh a point.
Peter Uihlein set the tone for the U.S. when he defeated Tom Lewis in the top match 2 and 1. Jordan Spieth and Harris English followed suit with respective 3 and 2 and 2 and 1 wins over Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan.
English needed to mount a comeback to take care of Sullivan. The Georgia player was four down after seven holes but made three birdies over the next 10 holes to win.
“That’s the great thing about match play, anything can happen,” English said. “I just stayed in there and managed to turn the tide of the match.”
Rodgers started his match with five straight birdies to go 3 up. However, Pugh somehow ran out a 2 and 1 winner to arrest the U.S. charge.
The young Welshman played the 17 holes in 1-under, while Rodgers was as bad over the back nine as he was great over the front nine. The incoming Stanford freshman bogeyed five of six holes from the 9th to hand Pugh the match.
“I just stayed patient,” Pugh said. “It was like I was playing in a dream.”
Edwards singled Pugh out as one of the performances of the day.
Walker Cup: Meet the teams
The U.S. and GB&I Walker Cup squads feature some of the best amateur players in the world. Get to know the 20 men battling for the Cup this week at Royal Aberdeen.
“We played well in the foursomes, but the performance of the day was Rhys Pugh. Patrick Rodgers played the front nine in 31, but Rhys stuck with him and ground out a win.”
At one point the U.S. trailed in seven of the eight matches until the leading three turned things around. While the top of the U.S. order was peerless, the middle of the order didn’t quite fire on all cylinders.
Russell Henley lost one down to England’s Steven Brown. James Byrne defeated Nathan Smith 2 and 1. U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft lost by the same score to Ireland’s Paul Cutler.
World No. 1 Patrick Cantlay trailed for much of his match to Michael Stewart, but Stewart couldn’t hole a putt over the closing holes and went down 2 and 1.
With another four foursomes to play and 10 singles to close out the match, there is everything to play for. However, Edwards will have the easier team talk to give.
The Welshman won two and lost two as a player while Holtgrieve won all three he played in 1979, 1981 and 1983.
“I’d love to leave here with three Walker Cup victories,” Edwards said.
“I have a lot of faith in this team.”
Whether they reward that faith remains to be seen. Don’t be surprised if it comes down to the final match on the final green as it did in Chicago in 2005 and Royal County Down in 2007.
There is very little to separate these two teams.