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Defending champ Gay grabs lead at Maine Amateur

Gabe Souza | BDN
Gabe Souza | BDN
Ryan Gay of Augusta found himself well off the 12th fairway and in the woods during the second round of the 92nd annual Maine Amateur Championship at the Portland Country Club Wednesday, July 13, 2011. Despite the set back, Gay was among the leaders at the end of the day.
By Dave Barber, BDN Staff

FALMOUTH FORESIDE — Jason JJ Harris of Bath will be no stranger to one of his playing partners Thursday during the final round of the 92nd Maine Amateur Golf Championship at Portland Country Club.

Harris, defending champion Ryan Gay of Pittston and Jason Gall of Cumberland will be playing in the last group as Harris tries to unseat Gay, his playing partner and longtime friend.

“He got me into playing tournaments outside of Maine,” said the 19-year-old Harris, who is only a few months younger than Gay.

Gay holds a three-stroke lead over Jason Gall of Cumberland and is four strokes ahead of Harris.

Gay birdied two of the last three holes Wednesday and posted a second straight 1-under-par 69 for a two-day total of 138. Gall, who started the day tied for second with Gay, shot a 72 for 141. Harris also shot a 72 and is at 142.

Mike Doran of Portland, the opening-day leader, turned in a 75 for 143 and fourth place, and Craig Briggs of York Harbor and Seth Sweet of Madison are tied for fifth at 144. Briggs posted the first under-par round of the day, matching Gay’s 69, and Sweet followed his opening 71 with a 73.

Two-time Maine Amateur winner Ricky Jones of Thomaston shot a 71 and is at 145.

Forty-six players made the cut of 153 for Thursday’s final round.

Harris gives Gay a lot of credit for where is now as a player.

“I’ve gotten good quicker and at a younger age because of him,” said Harris.

“If not for him, I would not be at the college I’m at now,” added Harris, who will be a junior at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, Fla. Gay will be a junior at the University of New Mexico in the fall.

Harris thinks it will be fun playing against Gay for a change as they usually play with each other.

“We usually play MSGA (tournaments) on the weekends and a couple of times during the week,” said Harris, who stated he won’t be intimidated by the long-hitting Gay.

“I know his game. I know what he’ll be doing tomorrow (Thursday),” said a smiling Harris.

If Gay is as wild off the tee Thursday as he was Wednesday, it could make for an exciting finish.

“I missed 14 (fairways), hit none,” he said. “I did hit one, but it was the wrong one.”

He compensated for it with his short game, though, and posted seven birdies along with six bogeys and five pars.

Accuracy off the tee was one of the parts of his game he has been working on this summer, but it deserted him Wednesday.

“I thought I had it under control until today,” he said.

Gay said he felt weird on the first tee, realizing as he swung that it wasn’t going to be very good.

“I tried to put a steering wheel on it, but that never works,” he said.

Harris expects they’ll play much better Thursday because of their comfort level playing together.

“We can feed off each other, we can make a lot of birdies,” Harris said. “Three or four under (par) will be right there.”

Harris pointed to one aspect of Gay’s game, in particular, for his success.

“His short game is very good,” Harris said. “He has a very creative mind.”

That’s especially helpful at Portland Country Club, whose 18-hole shoreside layout was designed in 1921 by world renowned golf course architect Donald Ross.

“The greens are tough,” said Harris. “They’re not fast, but (the cups) are in good places.”

Gay was encouraged by his short game.

“If I can get the ball semi on the planet (Thursday), that would be good,” said Gay.

One example of his scrambling came on the 510-yard 16th hole, playing straight into a breeze coming off Casco Bay.

Gay’s tee shot went way right, over a stand of trees and nearly into the 18th fairway. He punched the second shot low between the trees and hit a low wedge from 65 yards that hit, stuck and spun back to 4 feet. He drained that birdie putt, then dropped a 6-footer on the par-3 17th for his final birdie.

Harris started strong as he birdied the first two holes, but he only made one more the rest of the day, on 14, while he bogeyed 4, 9, 11, 13 and 17.

Gall was at even par for the day with three birdies and three bogeys until he bogeyed the last two holes for his 72.

Briggs was at 4 under for the day when he carded a 3 on 11 for his fifth birdie. But he bogeyed 17 and double bogeyed 18.

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