BAR HARBOR — On a day when Kebo Valley Golf Course was unforgiving, Caleb Manuel found his rhythm just in time.

Manuel birdied his final three holes Tuesday morning to take the early lead in the first round of the Maine Amateur Championship. A 19-year-old Mt. Ararat High School graduate, Manuel finished with a 2-under par 68.

Scott Stone, also of Topsham and playing out of Val Halla Golf Course, shot a 1-under 69 and sits in second place. Stone, 53, played in the last two Maine Amateur Championships at Kebo Valley in 1998 and 2010, and called it his favorite course in the state. He always knows what he’s up against chasing Manuel for the lead.

“If I can stay within 20 of Caleb, seriously. I practice at Brunswick (Golf Club) a little bit here and there, and to see the scores that kid shoots. (Wednesday), I’m just going to go out, hit it on the first fairway, hit it on the first green, and keep steaming along and just see where I’m at the end of the day. I’ll be shocked if I’m anywhere near the lead, the way that kid plays,” said Stone, whose only bogey came on 18. “I putted really well, and just stayed out of trouble.”

Michael O’Brien of Biddeford-Saco Country Club and Kent Johnson of Hermon Meadows Golf Club finished behind Manuel and Stone with even-par 70s.

“I feel pretty good about the score. I definitely didn’t play as well as I wanted to. I was planning on hitting fairways and greens and kind of having a stressful free round,” said Manuel, who recently completed an all-Big East freshman season at the University of Connecticut. “I’m definitely happy with the score after the way I hit it. I’ll probably go hit some balls somewhere and tidy some things up and come back (Wednesday).”

Manuel’s best shot was a 25-foot downhill birdie putt on 17, the second of his three consecutive birdies to finish his day.

“It probably had a little more pace than I wanted it to. I knew the putt was going to be quick, and I could see how it would drop off after the hole, so I left the pin in. To have that one go in was definitely a confidence booster going into tomorrow, a little momentum,” Manuel said.

Will Kannegeiser watches his drive on the 15th hole during the opening round of the Maine Amateur Championship on Tuesday at the Kebo Valley Club in Bar Harbor. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Heavy rain over the last week left the Kebo Valley greens soft. Furthermore, the wind created some problems for players.

“The greens are actually holding well, but the greens here are always tough to putt. If you get above the hole, it’s really tough,” Johnson said.

“The entire front nine was playing into the wind, so most of the harder shots were on the front, I think. It made the front really hard,” said Andrew Slattery, who won the Maine Am in 2014 at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth and shot a 2-over 72 Tuesday. “I started out with a bogey (on one), which you never really want to do. One’s not an easy hole, but it’s not one you should be making bogey on.”

Other former Maine Am winners struggled: John Hayes (2015) shot a 6-over 76; Ricky Jones (2003, 2004, 2013) finished at 5-over 75 as did Ryan Gay (2008, 2010, 2011), who won his second Maine Am crown at Kebo Valley in 2010.

A double bogey on the short par-3 sixth hole was a stain on Manuel’s otherwise solid front nine. Manuel’s hot finish began when he recovered from a bad shot on 14. Manuel’s second approach shot on the 535 yard par-5 hole ended up well to the right of the green, but he was able to salvage par.

“After that shot I just was kind of taking a deep breath. I got lucky it didn’t end up in that brook, and I had a decent recovery. After that I calmed down. Once I drove that green on 16, I was a little more calm after that,” Manuel said.

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