AUBURN — It was a game of catch-me-if-you-can.

For a while, Ricky Jones looked like he might take that challenge and run with it.

Even after struggling with his putter on the front nine, Ryan Gay appeared ready to join the chase.

But Jesse Speirs, the 22-year-old Bangor golfer whose first tournament experience as a junior golfer came as a 13-year-old at Martindale Country Club, completed the circle Friday, shooting an even-par round of 71 to capture the 90th Maine Amateur golf championship at the Auburn course.

Defending champion Ryan Gay, who started the day three shots behind Speirs, said after Thursday’s second round that he felt the need to be more aggressive in an attempt to track his rival down, played at the pins all morning on the front nine.

He just couldn’t make any putts.

“On the front nine I hit a lot of good shots, but I’ve never missed so many three-, four-, five-foot birdie putts in my life,” Gay said. “I was putting terrible strokes on the ball. I hit the ball great on the front nine, I just missed a lot of those putts I normally don’t miss.”

Quietly, Jones started to sneak into the picture, too. Starting the day seven strokes back, the two-time champ had a low number in mind.

“Before I even got here, i was telling people I needed to shoot 64 or 65,” Jones said. “I figured if I could just get by the eleventh …”

He birdied the second, sixth and seventh holes as Speirs kept things at even par for the day. And at No. 9, Jones rolled in a chip from the front edge of the green for birdie to turn in 31.

On that same hole, Speirs drained a 25-footer of his own to keep pace. Had he not made that putt, Jones would have turned just three back.

“He was putting the pressure on me there early,” Speirs said. “Ricky had just chipped in, which I’m getting used to. After he did that, he picked up a shot on me, but I couldn’t let it be two shots.”

The 11th hole proved once again to be Jones’ downfall. In similar fashion to Thursday, Jones lipped out a short putt at the difficult par-3 and failed to capitalize on a Speirs bogey.

“That hole got me out of the zone again,” Jones said. “I watched Ryan’s (putt) kind of slide and I tried to gently hit it in, but I guess I got it going too fast.”

All three players made a bogey at the 12th.

“I’ll take the bogey on 11, that’s a tough hole,” Speirs said. “The bogey on 12, that was a pretty poor mistake. I’d say it was the worst mistake I made all week.”

Speirs leveled off after that, tapping in for birdie at the 18th for a four-shot win over Gay and a five-shot margin over Jones, who still shot the best round of the day, a 2-under-par 69.

In a short speech following the trophy presentation, Speirs and a teary-eyed MSGA Executive Director Nancy Storey recognized former EL teacher and former MSGA Junior Golf Director Tom Kimball, who died earlier this year. Kimball, Speirs said, helped him learn tournament golf as a junior player.

Jones, meanwhile, left quickly following his round, bound for Oklahoma and the U.S. Public Links Championships, for which he qualified with a one-stroke playoff victory over Speirs earlier this year.

“It wasn’t revenge, I wouldn’t call it that,” Speirs said, deflecting any sort of rivalry. “He’s a very good golfer, and you take a win over someone like that when you can.”

Speirs left open the possibility that he may return next summer to defend his crown, saying the timeline he’s set for turning professional continues to shift.

“I haven’t really set a time,” Speirs said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be next fall or next summer.”

For now, he said, he’ll enjoy this win, and his final year at the University of Mississippi.

“After that,” Speirs said, “I’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

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