MANCHESTER, Maine — Ricky Jones often gets up early to participate in a 5:30 a.m. exercise class before heading to work.
He skipped the class again Wednesday morning, but the Thomaston golfer was nonetheless raring to go, despite a 7 a.m. tee time, for the second round of the 94th Maine Amateur Championship.
Jones took the first swing on the No. 1 tee at Augusta Country Club, where he shot a 3-under-par 67 to build a six-stroke advantage over two other golfers heading into Thursday’s final round with a two-day score of 7-under-par 133.
“I hit 16 greens again,” offered Jones, who stressed the importance of that accomplishment, because he was able to avoid having to hit out of the thick, wet rough.
“The greens seemed a little bit faster [Wednesday] than they were [Tuesday],” he added.
Forty-six players, the top 40 scores and ties, advanced to the final round. The cut was at 151. A total of 132 players competed in the first two rounds.
Jones, 41, was one of only three players to break par Wednesday, an overcast day that featured cool temperatures, a bit of wind and some rain showers. The two-time Maine Amateur champion (2003, 2004) also was the runner-up in 2010 and 2012.
He will be joined in Thursday’s final threesome by Ryan Gay of Pittston and Tommy Stirling of Sable Oaks in South Portland, both of whom shot even-par 70s on Wednesday and are 1 under (139) for the tournament.
Gay knows it will be difficult, but isn’t conceding anything to Jones just yet.
“I’ve shot 61 out here twice, so I need a good one [Thursday], but it’s [winning] definitely not out of the question,” he said. “If I keep hitting it well, keep giving myself looks and I get a lot of the putts to fall, it’s going to be a good one.”
Sam Grindle of Island Country Club in Deer Isle is fourth at 141 after a 1-under 69 — one of only three players to break par on the day. He’ll play the final round with Jack Wyman of Portland Country Club, who shot 69 and is at 142, and J.J. Harris of Bath, whose 71 put him at 143.
Thirteen-time Maine Amateur champion Mark Plummer of Manchester fired a 72 and is at 143, while the group at 144 includes Joe Walp of Falmouth Country Club, Johnny Hayes IV of Proutts Neck CC, Mike O’Brien of Sable Oaks and Brian Bilodeau of Martindale CC in Auburn.
Len Cole of Hampden, who plays at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, shot a 73 and is among three players at 145, 12 strokes off the pace. Defending champ Seth Sweet of Madison was 1 over and finished at 146.
Jones, who was 4 under Tuesday, birdied Nos. 1, 5 and 8 to shoot 32 on the front nine and get to minus-7.
“You’re 3 under after the front, [then] I had about a five-footer [for birdie] on 10, right behind the hole,” explained Jones, who missed the putt.
“That one maybe kind of flustered me a little bit,” he added.
Jones parred No. 11, but his string of 29 consecutive holes without a bogey ended on 12. He then bogeyed 12 and 13 also.
That brought up some negative vibes, because a similar stretch had cost him in the past.
I guess you could say the wheels were starting to fall off,” Jones said.
“I was actually thinking, the last couple of Amateurs that I finished second, I’ve had like a three-hole stretch where it’s been bad,” he admitted.
However, he responded with back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16, then added another on 18.
Gay was not able to take advantage of his home-course experience to improve his position. The 22-year-old was a bit erratic off the tee and couldn’t seem to find the putting touch.
“I didn’t make a single putt all day, didn’t really hit the driver well; irons were mediocre,” said Gay, who plans to turn pro on Friday. “It was just a struggle.”
Gay posted birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 10 and 16, but had to work around bogeys on 5, 11, 15 and 17.
He was clearly disappointed in his performance, in particular the bogey on the 546-yard par-5 fifth.
“I hit it in the hazard on 5. That’s terrible. You shouldn’t make 6 there … it should be a birdie hole,” Gay said.
Gay did demonstrate his deft touch on the 327-yard 14th hole.
He pushed his drive to the right, behind the 15th green, which put a group of substantial trees between him and the green. He punched a low shot through cleanly and got it to within about 15 feet.
“I had to hit under the first tree, over the second tree and hook it, and I did,” Gay said. “I hit a great shot. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the putt.”