LUMBERTON — A strong individual player isn’t necessarily the key to winning the Kiwanis All-American Golf Tournament, but it doesn’t hurt.
Larry Cloninger, who is a former champion at the tournament and took second place last year with regular teammate John Haskins, had one of the lowest balls of the day, scoring a 65 individually as the duo jumped out to a first day lead at 10-under-par 62 at Pinecrest Country Club.
“I hit the ball close a number of times, made eight birdies, could have made maybe three more,” Cloninger said.
The two hold a two stroke lead in the tournament, leading Stephen Pippin and Chip Collins, who finished at 8-under-par 64.
The top two teams played in the same foursome on Saturday and will be together again today in the final group.
“I got my money’s worth just watching Larry Cloninger play,” Pippin said.
The teams were tied going into the final two holes. The difference was a birdie by Cloninger on No. 17 and a chip in for birdie by Haskins on No. 18.
“John got a tough break. His second shot rolled off the back of the green on 18 and he chipped in,” Cloninger said.
It was the second lowest round the duo has had in the tournament’s history, one stroke short of a 60 in years past, Cloninger said.
Pippin said he and Collins struggled on the front nine but had six consecutive birdies on the back. Both finished at least 4 under individually.
Pippin credited Cloninger and Haskins for helping his team play well.
“When another team is playing well, it spurs you on,” he said. “If you’ve got another team playing bad, it doesn’t motivate you.”
Cloninger said he and Haskins will need to play well again when the second round tees off today.
“It think it’s going to take another below 65,” he said. “We’ll move back to the blue tees tomorrow. They play a little longer but still we’ve got to shoot low- to mid-60s.”
The groups finished early and Pippin joked at the end of the round that he wanted to see the same pairing again on day 2, a wish that eventually came true.
“Maybe we’ll come out on top somehow,” he said.
Defending champions Scott Benton and Dyrck Fanning finished the day five strokes back with a 5-under-par 67.
They bogeyed No. 2 and Fanning said the two were only 1 under entering No. 15 when he sank an eagle putt from 35 feet out.
“It was real close to being a long day,” Fanning said.
Mark Kinlaw and Jeff Wishart sit in third at 65, with Kyle Covington and Phillip Wallwork at 66. Benton and Fanning are tied for fourth with Bryan Taylor and Barry Lovick, Ryan Bass and Yarnell Locklear, David Lowery Jr. and Ahston Woods, and Mark Lassiter and McGirt.
McGirt was back at the course after watching his brother, William, at the Wyndham Championship the day before.
William made the cut Friday and was only strokes off the lead before struggles on Saturday led him to drop out of the top 25.
As he played, Keith kept up with William’s round but said it was tough to choose whether he should be in Greensboro or play the Kiwanis tournament.
“It’s hard because he’s only guaranteed to make two rounds,” he said. “If he hadn’t have played well and missed the cut I would have felt bad not playing this. It’s just a tough call. It would have really been tough (today) if he was in the lead. I would still be playing but it would be really tough to concentrate knowing that he’s in the lead and I’m not up there when he’s only a couple of hours away.”