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U.S. on cusp of Walker Cup victory

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- It took 91 years for the Walker Cup matches to return to the National Golf Links, but only about five hours on Saturday afternoon for the U.S. team to show the Great Britain and Ireland squad that it was the superior group in these biennial matches.

Taking six of the eight singles matches, the U.S. team has a commanding 8-4 lead with four foursomes and 10 singles matches on Sunday.

The U.S. team needs 13.5 points to win the cup from GB&I, who took it two years ago at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, 14-12.

After grabbing the lead in the morning foursomes with a 2.5-1.5 lead, GB&I could only manage 1 full point in the afternoon with a 2 and 1 win by Gavin Moynihan over Patrick Rodgers.

"It's a little bit surprising that we played that well," said Bobby Wyatt, who won 2 up over Neil Raymond. "But we're all really good players."

Five of the U.S. wins came via players from the Alabama and Cal golf teams, arguably the two best men's college programs in the country.

In June, Wyatt, Justin Thomas and Corey Whitsett led Alabama to the Crimson Tide's first NCAA golf championship. On Sunday, they will join three Cal players who won on Saturday afternoon -- Max Homa, Michael Kim and Michael Weaver -- in what will likely be a runaway win for the Americans.

As good as GB&I looked in the foursomes, it's very unlikely it can overcome this four-point deficit.

"It's still my message tonight when we get together [that] ... the match is still even," said U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve. "It's match play. This thing is not nearly over."

That's the right message to send your team. The GB&I players are going to need some of the most spirited golf of their careers to make a comeback.

"It's going to be hard work tomorrow anyway," said Nigel Edwards, the GB&I captain. "But any time you win a Walker Cup is never going to be easy. If it was going to be easy, it wouldn't be worth doing."

The Sunday morning foursomes could be the saviors for the GB&I team. Foursomes are much more popular in Europe than in the United States.

At Aberdeen in 2011, GB&I won six of eight foursomes matches. And that American team had four players who have won professional events on major tours this year.

But the U.S. is stronger this year in foursomes. On Sunday morning, Holtgrieve is sending out Alabama teammates Wyatt and Whitsett and the Cal duo of Homa and Kim, who was the player of the year in men's college golf.

That's two points that the Americans should win very convincingly.

Then in the singles, the U.S. should stay on the roll in that format that began Saturday afternoon.

Weaver will meet U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick in the third match off in the afternoon. On Saturday, Weaver handled the 19-year-old Englishman 3 and 1.

At 22, Weaver is a more complete player with the requisite skills for the next level. Gritty and cocksure in an unassuming way, Fitzpatrick is a tough competitor but he has to play near perfect golf to beat Weaver, who lost in the finals of the 2012 U.S. Amateur to Steven Fox.

Yet if Fitzpatrick can manage an early lead and take this match, it could signal a big momentum shift for GB&I if they hope to have a realistic chance to win on Sunday afternoon.

And then there is the National Golf Links, a major character in these matches. It's a quirky conglomeration of some of C.B. Macdonald's favorite holes on the British Isles. The green complexes are some of the most difficult in championship golf. At times, it looks like MacDonald imagined the greens first and worked back to the tee. Add the firmness of the greens and the intricate winds off the Peconic Bay and you have a golf course that can drive the best players in the world mad.

Still, the U.S. will regain the cup on Sunday where it first won it more than 90 years ago.