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Birch Ridge grabs 5-1 lead in Walker Cup

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The Walker Cup trophy could soon be on the move.

Birch Ridge ended Day 1 of the seventh-annual tournament with a 5-1 lead on its home course Thursday over defending champion Kenai Golf Course, using four close victories in match play to gain all the momentum going into today's action.

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Kenai took the crown last year on its home course, but it will take a comeback effort to keep the trophy from moving across town.

Not that Kenai, which trails the all-time series 3-2-1, is ready to hand over the prize.

"The way I see it, they got five points today, but we can get five points tomorrow," said Kenai captain and pro Tommy Carver.

Thursday's competition pitted six pairs from each side in alternate-ball format, meaning teammates took turns swinging, playing off each other's shots.

Today, six more points are on the line as the tournament goes to a best-ball format, where both players complete each hole with their own ball and the team takes the best score of the two.

Sunday's finale will be singles play, and there will be 12 points up for grabs.

"The way it goes is it usually comes down to Sunday," said Kenai's Todd Eskelin, who teamed with Gordon Griffin to earn the squad's lone win, 4 and 2 over Al Fry and Kevin O'Fallon.

Birch Ridge's Mike Hollingsworth and Jay Kriner earned the most decisive victory with a 5 and 3 triumph over Bob Sizemore and Doug Jung, meaning they held an insurmountable five-stroke lead with three holes to play and didn't need to finish the round.

George Stein and Darell Jelsma of Birch Ridge didn't need a full 18, either, notching a 4 and 2 victory over Mark Griffin and Chris Murray.

The results of the final three pairings weren't decided until the 18th green.

Jeff Hetrick and Beau Forrest of Birch Ridge held off Derek Kaufman and first-time participant Morgan Cunningham, preserving a one-point lead over the final two holes.

Cunningham buried a 12-foot putt for birdie on No.16 to cut the lead in half, but the squads tied the final two holes.

J.D. Cowan and Brennen Jackson of Birch Ridge then prevailed over Craig Jung and John Dahlgren after the teams entered No. 18 in a tie. Dahlgren narrowly missed a short, downhill putt that gave Birch Ridge the decisive 1-stroke edge.

Birch Ridge's Eddie Sibolboro and Paul Zimmerman, better known as "PZ," came back from a one-point deficit after 15 holes in the final pairing.

Kenai's Rich Edwards and Doug Harralson lost No. 16 to force a tie before Sibolboro and Zimmerman birdied No. 17 to take a one-point edge. The Birch Ridge duo also took No. 18 to finish 2-up.

Despite that, Birch Ridge captain and pro Tom Walsh said Kenai still has a chance.

"There's a lot of golf left to play," he said.

Both captains said they will make roster shifts for today's competition - each side is allowed alternates - but neither was ready to disclose the adjustments.

Birdies were rare Thursday.

Zimmerman notched birdies on No. 6 and No. 8, putting in from 6 feet on No. 6 and getting a nice roll for a chip-in on No. 8.

Kriner and Hollingsworth, who held a five-hole lead through nine holes, birdied No. 12 after a slow start on the back nine to reclaim momentum and earn a point.

Both sides agreed the conditions were good, with minimal wind and well-maintained greens.

"It was great out there," Eskelin said. "The greens were rolling really nice."

Walker Cup

Thursday at Birch Ridge Golf Course

Birch Ridge 5, Kenai 1

Mike Hollingsworth-Kay-Kriner, BR, def. Bob Sizemore-Doug Jung, 5 and 3; George Stein-Darel Jelsma, BR, def. Mark Griffin-Chris Murray, 3 and 2; Gordon Griffin-Todd Eskelin, K, def. Al Fry-Kevin O'Fallon, 4 and 2; Jeff Hetrick-Beau Forrest, BR, def. Derek Kaufman-Morgan Cunningham, 1-up; J.D. Cowan-Brennen Jackson, BR, def. Craig Jung-John Dahlgren, 1-up; Eddie Sibolboro-Paul Zimmerman, BR, def. Rich Edwards-Doug Harralson, 2-up.

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