He quit smoking a year ago. Then, after prodding from his wife, Jones took up the CrossFit workout regimen, as seen occasionally on ESPN.

In addition to building muscle and helping Jones shed 20 pounds, a fit lifestyle appears to do wonders for his golf game.

Two-time Maine Amateur champion Jones shot a bogey-free, 4-under 66 on Tuesday, giving him a three-shot lead in the 94th renewal of the event at Augusta Country Club.

Jones prevailed in 2003 at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono and 2004 at Sanford. His play in the state’s major events had slipped slightly, though, since his Maine Open victory at Fox Ridge in 2006.

“When I was playing my best golf from 2003 to 2005, I was working out every day. I’m just a lot stronger and more in condition,” Jones said. “The other day I was thinking about it, and maybe I breathe in more oxygen. I wouldn’t dream of smoking now with the workouts we do.”

Birdies at Nos. 7, 14, 15 and 18 supplied Jones, 41, with the three-stroke cushion over a trio of 20-something players — Brian Bilodeau of Auburn, Ryan Gay of Pittston and Tommy Stirling of Gorham — and Mike O’Brien out of Sable Oaks in South Portland.


They were the only five players under par in the field of 132.

Jones’ efforts off the course paid dividends on it in several tune-up tourneys.

He won his fifth Paul Bunyan Amateur, a 36-hole event held at Kebo Valley in Bar Harbor and Penobscot Valley, by seven shots. Jones also qualified for the USGA Public Links Championship in Virginia from July 15 to 20 by defeating Stirling in a playoff at Brunswick.

“Just kind of hitting it solid and not three-putting,” Jones said of the recent keys to his game. “Making a putt every once in a while.”

The day started inauspiciously with a shot into the bunker on the par-3 second hole, but Jones got up and down unscathed. He hit a wayward drive to another par-3, the 13th, “but got lucky and got a good lie,” he said.

Otherwise, Jones found every green. He sank an arrow-straight 15-footer on No. 7 before the back-to-back birdies in the heart of the back nine.


Jones nearly dropped his approach shot to No. 15 from the fairway.

“I looked at the (distance) and said ‘that’s just a perfect 9-iron.’ It was the right yardage, and it stopped a foot away,” Jones said.

On the 18th, Jones hit a 3-wood from 250 yards into the narrow strip of grass between two front bunkers. He chipped to six feet and drained the putt to apply the exclamation point.

“I played pretty good out front. I think this course, once I get past 10, I know where the birdies are,” Jones said. “But I usually shoot somewhere around 70 because I can’t seem to make any birdies.”

In contrast to Jones, the back nine was nearly Bilodeau’s undoing.

Bilodeau watched his ball trickle into the tall grass to the left of a cart path along the 14th fairway and saw a great round bouncing away with it.


His birdies on three of the first five holes Tuesday morning were a foggy memory after bogeys on the 10th, 12th and 13th. And the greenery that swallowed his newest misadventure — well-watered as every lawn in the state these days — couldn’t have been any less welcoming had it been a den of vipers.

“It was looking like I was going to make another bogey, and that would have been three in a row,” Bilodeau said.

That’s when the Martindale Country Club member got aggressive on a day that seemed to favor conservative and steady. He lofted a pitching wedge through trees and dropped the ball 12 feet from the pin.

The resulting birdie and another on the 18th hole salvaged a red number and embroiled Bilodeau in the logjam for second.

Bilodeau, 29, missed last year’s Amateur because he was competing in the USGA Public Links in Colorado.

One of this year’s three June qualifying tournaments was at Martindale. Bilodeau carded a 69 that day, also, winning by four shots.


“I’m hitting the ball really well,” Bilodeau said. “I hit a ton of greens today. As long as I keep putting well and sneak a few more in we should be right there.”

Greens were deceptively quick, the fairways soaked and the rough unforgiving on a track that had seen at least one heavy dose of rain every day for more than a week.

Gay, who will turn professional after the tournament, figured to gain from his local knowledge as a club member. He was in a what-if state of mind, however, after being victimized by a few misjudged short putts and some bad bounces.

“I left a lot of shots out there,” Gay said. “The greens are probably a foot faster today than they have been, so I was a foot off on my pace. I had probably four lip-outs today, just hitting putts too hard from a short distance. What are you going to do? I hit it really well. That’s all I can take from today.”

Gay hit the flagstick on No. 7 before sinking the short putt for the second of his four birdies. He also birdied the second, ninth and 12th holes.

Bogeys on Nos. 3, 4 and 15 were the kryptonite.


“I hit probably six, seven other shots inside 10 feet,” added Gay, who was champion in 2008, 2010 and 2011. “It’s gettable today. Some of the tees are up. The greens are pure. If you can’t putt on those greens, you’re in some trouble, because those greens are perfect. It’s the perfect speed to make putts.”

Bilodeau’s near-downfall started with a pair of three-putts on the back nine. The second, on the 12th hole, all came from inside six feet.

He countered those moments with consistency. Bilodeau and Stirling, like Jones, hit all but two greens.

“(The bogeys) sneak up on you pretty quick. It looks like somebody could tear it up, but when you’re finished, you’re pretty happy to be right around par,” Bilodeau said. “All in all it was a pretty good round. You can’t get away with anything out there. If you mishit a shot off the green just by a little bit or in the wrong spot, it’s tricky. Anything around par today was happy.”

Stirling, who plays primarily out of Sable Oaks in South Portland, found his happy place with back-to-back birdies to open the round.

He was steady from there with two bogeys and a birdie.


“It definitely got the engine going,” Stirling said. “I had some good chances. I was a little aggressive on a few, but I made the comebackers.”

The youngest player on the leader board said that his recent playoff experience against Jones helped him handle the pressure of a large tournament.

“Being tied for the lead gave me a little taste of that,” he noted.

Craig Chapman of Auburn and Fox Ridge shot 70 along with Scott Sirois.

Another local favorite, 61-year-old Mark Plummer, opened his chase of a 14th Maine Amateur title with a 71, ending with birdies on 17 and 18 after a slow start.

Plummer’s last win came in 2002.


Defending champion Seth Sweet of Madison struggled to a 75.

“My putting was atrocious,” Sweet said. “The way I was playing I think I kept myself in it. It could have been 10 times worse. It could have been 80.”

Jones bristled at the suggestion that his 66 was enough to put Sweet and other players out of reach on day one.

The 54-hole tournament continues Wednesday. The cut for Thursday’s final round will be top 40 and ties.

“Golf can be strange,” Jones said. “You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”

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