U.S. captain Vinny Giles surprised at huge lead
EAST MANATEE -- Nathan Smith's lofted pitch shot stopped on a dime, shocking the Pittsburgh, Pa., native.
"I didn't think I could stop it actually," Smith said. "I was expecting it to hit and was actually hoping it wouldn't go up the slope into the bunker. I was surprised."
The shot and subsequent par-saving putt after knocking his tee shot into the water on the 560-yard par-5 17th hole secured an early point for the United States for a second consecutive day at the Concession Cup.
Smith and partner Todd White's 2-and-1 victory was assured when GB&I's Matt Clark rattled his birdie putt to extend the match around the cup on the 17th hole at The Concession Golf Club on Friday.
Smith and White's victory buoyed Team USA into a second straight blowout performance, capturing eight of the nine fourball, otherwise known as best ball, matches. It leaves the Americans with a 16-2 advantage.
They need to win only two singles matches on Saturday to retain the Concession Cup.
"We're getting a hammering and there's nothing we can do about it," GB&I captain Garth McGimpsey said. "So just have to try and go out, and win some points (Saturday). It's not good for the tournament, but there's nothing we can do."
The opening match Friday is what sparked Team USA into turning on the afterburners. On the decisive hole, Clark reached the par-5 17th in two. His first putt fell several feet short.
"I figured that if it got to the hole, I would barely keep it on the green," Clark said. "So it was putt to a point, and I probably missed that point by about 2-feet left. But I thought the pace was good."
Then he horseshoed the subsequent birdie bid around the cup. That gave Smith and White, who held a 2-up lead, a tie on the hole and victory in the match.
"The second one, I thought I had enough pace on it to hold the line and it just dived," Clark said.
From there, the United States captured seven of the remaining eight matches.
GB&I's Ben Westgate and Mike Hearne earned the lone point for their team for a second straight day. They're 2-0-0 in the event. On Friday, they took down Sammy Schmitz and Joe Alfieri, the lone Floridian in the field, with a 2-and-1 victory.
"They struck it well, they putted well," said Alfieri, a Tampa Jefferson graduate. "A couple times, even short-sided, they hit some phenomenal chip shots where it's going to be a challenge."
While Westgate and Hearne have delivered, the rest of Great Britain and Ireland have faltered from either their form or running into opponents playing a tad better.
Clark said the big difference for GB&I is how the greens play at The Concession compared to the courses across the pond, specifically in the way the ball breaks.
"It's a bit like watching an Indy car, where they float around," Clark said. "Like it almost kind of travels and slopes around. It doesn't take a break the same way. If you hit a putt here, in our eyes, 2-feet past the hole, that at home is an ideal pace for it to take the ultimate break that you see. Here, 2-feet past the hole is taking the break out of it. And that's a very hard thing not to, as much of anything, to visualize."
Still, it's a shock to both sides just how dominant the United States has been this week.
"I'm very surprised at the margin," U.S. team captain Vinny Giles said. "At this type of competition, you don't think it's going to be a rout like it's been for two days."
Other American winners from the best ball session included: Patrick Christovich and Tim Jackson (6-and-4); Chip Lutz and Pat Tallent (4-and-3); Bryan Norton and Bob Kearney (2-and-1); Jack Hall and Doug Hanzel (4-and-3); Paul Simson and Brady Exber (2-and-1) and Vinny Giles and Jim Holtgrieve (2-and-1).
On Saturday, the tournament concludes with 18 singles matches. Team USA needs two points to retain the Concession Cup and will look to get that quickly with the first group beginning at 9 a.m.
Tee times are in 10-minute intervals, with the last group teeing off at 11:50 a.m.
The event and parking are both free to the public to attend.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.