Sunday, September 13, 2009

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) — The United States team provided coach Buddy Marucci the strong singles start he hoped for before stumbling and letting Britain and Ireland back in contention at the Walker Cup.

The Americans moved closer to winning their third straight Walker Cup behind the strong play of Rickie Fowler on Saturday, taking an 8-4 lead over Great Britain and Ireland at Merion Golf Club.

The U.S. team raced to a 3-1 lead after the morning alternate-shot matches on a soggy Merion East, and went on to claim three singles matches and halve four others for a four-point lead that could have been larger if a few Americans didn't stumble down the stretch.

The U.S. team's lead is anything but comfortable with 14 points on the line Sunday with four alternate-shot matches followed by 10 afternoon singles.

At one point Saturday afternoon, the Americans were leading six of the eight matches. GB&I rallied down the stretch and left the Americans with plenty of work to do in order to retain the title.

Marucci found a positive in the afternoon outcome and even the points the Americans let get away.

"I think it's wonderful the way GB&I was able to hang in there," said Marucci, who led the U.S. team to victory in 2007. "But I also think it is wonderful the way we were able to jump off to such a great start. Our guys played brilliantly."

GB&I captain Colin Dalgleish will take the four-point deficit heading into the final day of competition.

"We feel we are still very much in contention," Dalgleish said. "There was a while this afternoon that things didn't look very good at all. The board was all red on one side, and it wasn't looking good.

"But the guys fought back very well, and I think we played the 18th particularly well."

Nobody played better than Fowler. He posted two lopsided victories and ran his two-time Walker Cup record to 5-1 as he worked on putting the finishing touches on a stellar amateur career before turning pro next week.

He teamed with Bud Cauley for a 6-and-5 win in foursomes and made short work of Sam Hutsby in singles, winning 7-and-6 and closing out the Englishman with a curling birdie putt on the par-4 12th.

"We were ready to go ... after the opening ceremony," Fowler said. "So, I was definitely ready this morning, and had a good feeling."

The 20-year-old from Murrieta, Calif., also matched former Walker Cup players Scott Simpson and Robert Gamez for the third-largest winning margin by a U.S. player in singles.

"He was brilliant, and he's never stopped impressing me, and this afternoon was just another brilliant performance," Marucci said.

Fowler finished third at the NCAA Division I championship and has played in two U.S. Opens, missing the cut this year and finishing tied for 60th in 2008.

His first pro event is expected to be a Nationwide Tour event in Boise, Idaho, next weekend.

Other U.S. singles winners were Peter Uihlein and Bud Cauley.

Stiggy Hodgson was a double-winner for Britain and Ireland, teaming with Niall Kearney for a 3-and-1 win in alternate-shot and picking up a 2-and-1 singles win over Brendan Gielow.

"It was a lot of fun being out there, especially down the back nine when I know my point is vital," Hodgson said. "It just seemed to bring the best out in me, I think. I love being in that position ... I'm a fighter, which is my greatest strength, and also my mind."

GB&I worked hard for the matches it halved, with Gavin Dear, Matt Haines and Chris Paisley earning splits on the last hole. Wallace Booth also earned a half point.

Brian Harman, a member of the 2005 Walker Cup team, Cameron Tringale Morgan Hoffmann and Drew Weaver earned half points for the U.S.

In the alternate-shot matches, Uihlein rolled in an 18-foot par putt at the 18th hole and teamed with Nathan Smith for a come-from-behind 1-up victory in the most dramatic match of the morning session.

Fowler and Cauley made quick work of Luke Goddard and Dale Whitnell 6-and-5, and Harman and Hoffmann added the other U.S. point, beating Booth and Hutsby 2-and-1.

Uihlein, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, and Smith, the oldest member of the U.S. team at 31, held their only lead over Dear and Haines after winning the second hole. They cut GB&I's two-hole lead to one at the 10th and squared the match with a par at the 12th.

Dear and Haines teamed for par at the 13th to go 1-up, and maintained that edge until the Americans squared it with a par at the 246-yard, par-3 17th.

After Uihlein's approach to the 18th landed short and right of the green, Smith, who was the youngest U.S. Mid-Amateur champion at 25 in 2003, pitched to 18 feet and set up what proved to be the winning putt after Haines missed a 5-footer for par.

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