MANCHESTER — Ricky Jones rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt, his sixth and final one of the day, from behind the cup on the par 4 18th hole, and emphatically pumped his right fist.
He tried to contain a smile but couldn’t resist. And why would he?
The Thomaston golfer knows his third Maine Amateur title is well within reach.
Jones continued his assault on the par 70 Augusta Country Club course Wednesday, shooting 3-under par 67 a day after he separated from the field with a 66.
He takes a six-shot shot lead over three-time winner Ryan Gay and Gorham native Tommy Stirling into the final round today. Gay shot an even par 70 and is 1-under for the tournament.
The cut was set at 11-over par 151, with 46 players advancing to the final round.
Gay, a Pittston native, called his outing Wednesday “frustrating.”
“I didn’t play well,” said Gay, who made four birdies and four bogeys. “I didn’t do anything out there. I didn’t do anything too well.”
Stirling, who attends Southwestern Oklahoma State University, also shot even par Wednesday. He made 16 pars, a bogey and a birdie.
“I basically just tried to keep it in play,” he said. “I couldn’t make a lot of putts but I had some opportunities.”
Mark Plummer, a 13-time Maine Am champ, shot a 2-over 72 and is 3-over for the tournament. Defending champ Seth Sweet rebounded from a tough opening day to shoot a 1-over 71. He’s 6-over par for the tournament.
But this dreary, and at times rainy, day belonged to Jones, who is sucking the drama out of the 94th Maine Amateur.
“I got off to a great start and had a strong finish,” Jones, 41, said.
Jones birdied the first, fifth and eighth holes and was 3-under 32 at the turn. He pushed his bogey-free streak to 29 holes before finally running into trouble on the par 4 12th green.
“I got caught on a hill at the side of a ridge and I rolled one down left,” Jones said. “I had a tough putt over the ridge, a 6-footer, and I hit it too hard. It was a bad putt.”
It was the beginning of three consecutive bogeys for Jones, who won the Maine Amateur in 2003 and 2004.
“The wheels were starting to fall off,” Jones said. “I was actually thinking the last few amateurs (that) I finished second I had a three-hole stretch where I was bad.
“But after three bogeys I was still even for the day. It wasn’t like I was throwing the tournament away. I planned on making some bogeys in 54 holes, whether they were all three together or spaced out, it doesn’t matter.”
Jones recovered and finished strong with three birdies in the final four holes. He drained a 15-foot birdie putt from left to right on No. 15 and then made about a 7-footer on 16. He nearly birdied 17 when his 10-foot putt slid by the left of the hole.
“It was a strong finish after three bogeys in a row,” said Jones, who hit 16 greens for a second straight day. “I knew even if I played even for the day someone would have to shoot 3-under to catch me.”
No one did, and the title is his to lose. He’ll tee off at 10 a.m. today with Gay and Stirling.
Despite being six shots back, Gay said he isn’t ready to concede anything yet.
“It’s not out of the question,” he said. “Anything is possible. If I go out and shoot a 62 or a 63, I’ll be right back in it.”
Gay has shot a 61 on two different occasions at Augusta.
Plummer, as he did on Day 1, stuck around near the top of the leaderboard. He was even after the front nine but then bogeyed the par 4 10th and 11th holes.
“I didn’t get much going,” he said.
Plummer did make a 25-foot birdie putt on the par 3 7th.
“I made some shots but it was a little tough out there,” he added.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640