Kenai Golf Course put itself in an advantageous position to reclaim the Walker Cup from Birch Ridge's mantel. Just before flashlights would have been needed to find the ball, Kenai closed out its two final matches of a best-ball format to win 5-1 on Friday at Kenai Golf Course. Kenai holds an 8-4 lead going into the final round, which will be match play starting today at 1 p.m. at Kenai.
"Those Soldotna boys are not easy to beat," Kenai captain Gordon Griffin said. "You really have to be on your game, and this day we were on our game."
With wins on Friday, six Kenai players, including Mark and Gordon Griffin, Chris Murray, Truckee LeMay, Tommy Carver and Doug Jung, improved to 2-0 in this Walker Cup. Though Gordon is glad to be leading, he knows his team has to be prepared today.
"It's not over by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "Those boys can come back and bite ya."
Leading after two days is something new to Kenai in the six years of the Walker Cup.
"This is the first year we will be up going into the final day," Gordon said. "We're always two or three points down. Being up four points going into the final day is huge for us."
Six points can be earned each of the first two days and 12 are up for grabs today -- one point for each singles match. Kenai needs 4 1-2 to win, while Birch Ridge needs 8 to tie and 8 1-2 or more to keep the trophy.
"Like we have in the past, they have a big task ahead of them," Gordon said.
Gordon, paired with Doug Jung, defeated Mike Hollingsworth and J.D. Cowan 2-up. The pivotal point in the match came when the Kenai duo birdied consecutive holes -- Gordon on No. 15 and Doug on No. 16 -- to go 2-up with two to play.
"The back-to-back birdies did it," Gordon said.
Cowan-Hollingsworth won No. 17 and had a chance to tie, but Gordon-Doug won No. 18 and the match.
Another close match fought to the final hole was between Kenai's Mark Griffin and Chris Murray against Birch Ridge's Nolan Rose and Mike Chenault.
"It was tight," Murray said. "We pushed a lot of holes."
Leading by one going into the ninth and final hole -- three foursomes teed off from No. 1 and three from No. 10 -- Murray landed a chip shot close enough for a gimmie on his par putt to seal the victory.
"You have one chance to land it," Murray said. "You hope the ball does what it's supposed to do, and it did."
With fierce winds ripping across the course, Mother Nature presented difficulties, Murray said.
"It was tough conditions all day," he said. "Every time you play this golf course you have to grind it out. You're grinding against two good golfers and the course."
Rich Edwards and John Dahlgren, playing for Kenai, trailed Paul Zimmerman and Mike Edwards by one heading into the final two holes. The Kenai pair won both to finish the round 1-up.
Beau Forrest and George Stein notched Birch Ridge's lone win of the day. They defeated Chris Morin and Craig Jung 3 and 2.
Kenai's Todd Eskelin and Derek Kaufman beat Gary Stackhouse and Jim McWilliams 5 and 4. After losing the first hole, Kenai responded.
"We went on a run on the back to be 5-up through nine," Kaufman said. "(Todd) kept us in it in the beginning."
Kaufman said the best-ball format worked their advantage. When one had a bad hole, the other played well, he said.
"Neither I or Todd played particularly well, but we seemed to alternate," Kaufman said. "That's what best ball is all about."
Kenai's LeMay-Carver duo have yet to play 18 holes. After winning 5 and 4 on Thursday, LeMay and Carver defeated Aaron Andrus and Mark Azzara 6 and 4 on Friday.
LeMay said it was a steady day of golf.
"I played good on the front and Tommy played really good on the back," he said.
Carver made par on all five holes -- Nos. 10 through 14 -- played after the turn. Like Eskelin and Kaufman, Carver and LeMay found a balance in the best-ball format.
"We had our bad holes at opposite times," Carver said. "Both days it's been that way."
Now it's a matter of carrying Friday's success into today for Kenai, which has yet to win the Walker Cup on its own course. Birch Ridge holds a 3-1-1 advantage in the event.
"We have to hold it together," Carver said. "Make them make birdies."
Friday at Kenai Golf Course
Kenai 8, Birch Ridge 4
Truckee LeMay-Tommy Carver, K, def. Aaron Andrus-Mark Azzara, 6 and 4; Rich Edwards-John Dahlgren, K, def. Paul Zimmerman-Mike Edwards, 1-up; Beau Forrest-George Stein, BR, def. Chris Morin-Craig Jung, 3 and 2; Chris Murray-Mark Griffin, K, def. Mike Chenault-Nolan Rose, 2-up; Todd Eskelin-Derek Kaufman, K, def. Gary Stackhouse-Jim McWilliams, 5 and 4; Doug Jung-Gordon Griffin, K, def. Mike Hollingsworth-J.D. Cowan, 2-up.
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