CUMBERLAND — Conner Paine and Tom Higgins are both looking for their first big-time win.

After Tuesday’s first round of the Maine State Golf Association Junior Championship, the recent high school graduates will get their chance.

Paine, 18, of South China blistered the hot and dry 6,285-yard Val Halla Golf Course with a 4-under 68. Higgins, 17, of South Portland is a shot back at 3 under.

The final round of the two-day event is scheduled for Wednesday. With a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, the leading boys are scheduled to tee off at 10 a.m. The top girls will start at 7 a.m.

Paine and Higgins took different approaches to playing the relatively short course.

“Stay aggressive and swing hard,” said Paine, an Erskine Academy graduate, who plans to take a year off from school in an effort to improve his game in Florida. “If I can continue to do that, it will give me a lot of looks at birdies.”

Paine was bombing drives over 300 yards.

“I hate to say it but it was kind of a bad 68. I missed a 3-footer for eagle on number 4 and I had two three-putts,” Paine said.

But he also had three straight birdies on the front and back sides.

Paine won a club championship at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro but “winning this would be more significant.”

Higgins, who graduated from Cheverus High, opted to often use his 2-iron on the tee, a club he hits about 260 yards.

“It keeps it in play which is good on this course,” Higgins said.

His driving iron still left Higgins in position to attack the hole, leading to five birdies, including a tap-in two-putt on the par-5 18th.

“I won this in the 12-under division. I’ve been close a few times but I haven’t won this one. This is a pretty big one,” Higgins said.

Caleb Manuel, 17, the 2018 Maine high school Class A champ, and Bennett Berg of Portland are tied for third at even par 72.

Manuel’s former high school teammate, Cade Charron of Topsham (headed to Husson University), and Trevor Flanagan of Monmouth are tied for fourth at 1-over 73.

Manuel played an uncharacteristic up-and-down round, starting with an double bogey on the first hole.

“Off the tee I was a little erratic,” said Manuel, who will be a senior at Mt. Ararat and has verbally committed to play at the University of Connecticut. “I made a couple of nice birdies on the back nine to keep it a reasonable score.”

Berg is entered in the 13-15 age division. He birdied five of his last seven holes to get back to even par. Because the 13-15 players are using the same tees as the other juniors, they are eligible to win the overall championship.

That’s good news for Mia Hornberger, 14, of North Turner. She posted the low score among the seven girls competing with a 7-over 79. Ruby Haylock of Hartford and Rachel Smith of Cumberland, both in the 16-18 age division, are tied for second at 81.

Hornberger and the other girls will also enjoy playing early. They finished Tuesday in oppressive heat. Hornberger was 5 over on the back nine.

“The heat definitely gets to me. It makes it easier for me to lose my focus,” she said.

Smith, the 2018 MPA girls’ state champ, was 3 over after birdies at 12 and 14 but played the last four holes 6 over with a 9 on the 18th.

Sebastien Martinez of Yarmouth, playing on his home course, is the leader in the 12-and-under tournament. Those golfers play nine holes each day. Martinez posted a 3-over 40 on the back nine.


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