BAR HARBOR — Ryan Gay of Pittston overcame missed putts and a number of challengers Thursday to earn his second Maine Amateur Golf Championship in three years.
Gay, 19, two-putted from the front right corner of the last green for a par that gave him a 2-over-par 72 at Kebo Valley Golf Club Thursday and a one-stroke victory over Jason Gall of Augusta and Ricky Jones of Thomaston.
Gay’s 72 gave him a three-day total of 212. Gall, whose 8-foot birdie putt on 18 to tie Gay lipped out, also posted a 72 and Jones shot a 69, the only under-par round of the day, to account for their 213 totals. Seth Sweet (76 Thursday) of Madison and Matt Greenleaf (74) of Portland shared fourth at 217, Chris Hamel (70) of Waterville was sixth with 218 and Joe Alvarez (76) of Hampden was seventh at 220.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots, had a lot of good looks [at birdie],” said Gay, “but I lipped out, burned edges, everything. I just knew I had to keep going along, hitting good shots.”
The two two-putts he made on the last two holes turned out to be good enough.
It was especially true on 17, where he regained the lead from Gall, a fellow member of Augusta Country Club in Manchester.
Gall had taken the lead for the first time, by a stroke, after sinking a 12-foot downhill birdie putt on 15.
Gay knocked his approach shot on the back left corner of the green. His first putt at the cup on the right-center section of the green made a nearly 180-degree turn and rolled back 9 feet toward him.
He then drained the next putt for par after Gall, who had hit his approach shot just off the back edge, struggled to a double-bogey 6.
“I was fortunate on 17,” Gay said. “I put a good stroke on it [the second putt]. That was one of the best two-putts of my life.”
“I played great until the 17th hole,” said Gall of the 358-yard par 4 that includes hitting an approach shot to a green on top of a 30-foot bluff. “I thought I hit [the approach shot] perfect and it went over the green.”
He chipped on with his third shot but not far enough, leaving him a tricky downhill putt. He just missed the first one, then missed the comebacker as well, settling for his 6.
“Seventeen had been pretty good to me the first couple of days,” Gall said. “It was really close and fun, but at the end of the day, I wish I could have that shot back.”
Sweet, a 15-year-old who was the youngest player in the final group for at least 20 years, struggled almost from the outset. He started the final round a stroke behind Gay and tied with Gall. He scrambled to save pars through the first four holes but bogeyed four of the last five holes on the front nine to fall two strokes behind.
On the back, he bogeyed 11, 12 and 13 to fall farther back, and his title hopes dimmed from there.
“It was definitely nerves,” said Sweet. “I was definitely nervous.
“I hit cut driver [a fade] all day long, and I never hit cut driver. I tried calming [his nerves] down, but there’s no calming ’em down in the final group.”
Like last year’s Amateur at Martindale, Jones made a run on the front nine to get close. After he made birdie on the tough par-3 ninth, he was tied for the lead with Gay and Gall, who both bogeyed it. That was the first time he knew where he stood.
Jones bogeyed 10, but he still was in the hunt and he knew what he had to do.
“I figured I’d have to have two birdies coming in [on the back nine], maybe three,” said Jones. “I got none.”
He had several chances.
He missed a 6-foot birdie putt on 12, a 5-footer for birdie on 14, a birdie attempt from the front fringe on 16 and an 8-footer on 17.
“I never read any of the putts on the back correctly,” said Jones, a two-time Amateur champ, “and I never got any of the speeds right.”
Gall felt similarly afflicted.
“I hit some loose [wayward] shots, but it all comes down to putting,” he said.
He felt like he threw one away when his first putt on 16 came up one revolution short.
“Chicken,” he said after he putted out.
That would have moved him to even for the tournament and two strokes in front, but they all had their opportunities.
Gay’s 18-foot attempt at birdie on 5 hit the right edge and kicked out, but his 8-foot par putt on 6 caught the left edge and fell in.
More failed to drop than did drop, though.
“I kept missing putts, kept missing putts,” said Gay.
That is, until the last one, the one that counted most.
After collecting his crystal trophy, he was happy it was over.
“I’m relieved, I’m tired, I’m ready to go home,” he said.