LUMBERTON — The chemistry that was used to win three Kiwanis All-American golf tournaments in the past for Dyrck Fanning and Scott Benton was back on Saturday.
The past champions of the tournament took a share of the lead heading into the final round on Sunday as the duo looks to make history at the two-man best-ball tournament sitting on the tournament record of team titles.
Benton and Fanning fired an opening-round 64 at Pinecrest Country Club to match the mark set earlier in the day by Joseph Martin and Jeff Broadwell.
“You play better when you have fewer expectations. Scott was the man today; I didn’t do a whole lot,” Fanning said. “We’ve played together long enough that I will call him off a shot. If I think it’s the wrong iron, he trusts me.
“I read putts for him, like on 17. He came up to me and said, ‘I never would’ve made it, if it weren’t for you reading it to me.’ That’s the chemistry we have.”
After having neck surgery three months ago, Benton’s return to the course was a couple weeks ago. While he said he still isn’t up to full form, the team play eased him into the round.
“It’s pretty special for me to get back out here. It’s been a lot of fun,” Benton said. “It’s great that this tournament fell in line of getting back at it, and of course I love competition golf. It’s fun.”
Fanning said that based on Benton’s swing, he looked as if he was back to the Benton of old. After the surgery, the seven-time champion of the event wanted to see his partner out there.
“I called him up about a month ago and told him I don’t care if you hit a 6-iron off the tee, we need to play,” Fanning said. “Here he is today, he was the star.”
The pair warmed up on the back nine, shooting a 31, with birdies coming on Nos. 11 and 12 before three straight birdies coming in on Nos. 15 through 17. They picked up three shots on the front, after recording pars on their first four holes. A birdie on No. 5 and an eagle on the eighth hole made up the 33 on the first nine holes.
“We didn’t set the world on fire today, but we stayed persistent at it and just kept making a birdie every once in a while,” Benton said. “We got to 64, which at times we didn’t think we would get to. It could’ve been better, but it probably could’ve been worse.”
Martin and Broadwell enjoy the best-ball format to help make up for the dropped shots each would make playing an individual round.
“We had a great day and went bogey-free,” Martin said. “It was nothing special, and when we got in trouble we helped each other out.”
Like Fanning and Benton, the co-leaders also made their move on the back nine with a 30. On a four-hole stretch from Nos. 14 to 17, the team went 5 under with an eagle coming on the par-5 15th hole.
“We both made birdies on 14, then on 15 Jeff sticks it to like three feet for eagle and drains that, he goes to 16 and sticks it to four feet and drains that and then I drain one from like seven feet,” Martin said. “It was just a great team effort.”
The two teams lead a pack of seven that are within five strokes. Ryan Bass and Brad Locklear, and Mark Lassister and Keith McGirt sit one shot back with a 65. The 2016 champions, John Haskins and Larry Cloninger, are two shots back at 66.
The defending champions, Mark Kinlaw and Jeff Wishart, shot an even-par 72 in the first round.
For the final round, the players in the championship flight will be moved back to the blue tees.
“Some of these boys will be licking their chops to get back there. I’m not the furthest hitter, but Jeff hits it pretty far,” Martin said. “We will look to go about 66, 67 tomorrow.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.