ARDMORE, Pa. – The United States moved closer to winning its 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.
Fowler posted two lopsided victories and the Americans won three singles matches and halved four others on the opening day of the biennial competition.
The U.S. won three of four alternate-shot matches in the morning and need five points out of four alternate-shot matches and 10 singles Sunday to retain the title.
The Americans lead the series 33-7-1.
At one point during the singles, the U.S. team led in six of the eight matches. But GB&I rallied to remain in contention, leaving the Americans with plenty of work remaining.
The first day of competition belonged to Fowler, who is finishing his amateur career with the Walker Cup matches 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.
The 20-year-old from Murrieta, Calif., matched former Walker Cup players Scott Simpson and Robert Gamez for the third-largest winning margin by a U.S. player in singles.
Fowler had a 3-1 record for the U.S. team at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. He finished third at the 2009 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 Cauley and Peter Uihlein.
Stiggy Hodgson was a double-winner for Great 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.
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.
Catch final-day coverage on Golf Channel Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.