Ricky Jones has been a contender in enough Maine Amateur Championships in the last decade that it has not only produced some memorable victories but also some valuable growing pains.

The Samoset golfer needed that experience Thursday to claim his third title. Entering the day with a seemingly comfortable lead, Tommy Stirling quickly made that gap uncomfortable. Despite an outstanding day by Stirling, Jones produced a solid round of 71 to edge Stirling by two strokes.

“I was trying to stay right around even,” said Jones, who entered the day with a six-shot lead. “I thought if I shot 69, 70 or 71, somebody’s got to shoot 65 to beat me.”

Stirling did nearly that, producing seven birdies and getting within two strokes twice. Not bad for a guy that had never made the cut before.

“I was just trying to have as much fun as I could and I couldn’t do anything else,” said Stirling, from Sable Oaks. “The final round, the final group and the Maine Amateur and first made cut, what else can you expect? I did the best I could.”

Stirling birdied three of the first four holes and got within two strokes before a 45-minute rain delay halted play. Jones fell back upon his experience as Stirling made his charge.

“I knew not to get flustered,” said Jones. “I played a couple of times where Ryan (Gay)  came out of the gate with four or five birdies and I got flustered. At Biddeford-Saco, I had a three- or four-stroke lead, and he came out and shot four birdies in the first seven holes. I got flustered and shot a 76. A couple of times I’ve been out this year, I was thinking that I’m going to play my own game. I don’t care what anybody else does. If they shoot a number to beat me, they deserve it.”

It was the third title for Jones, who also won in 2003 and 2004. It also avenged a tough loss he suffered on an extra hole, losing to Mark Plummer at Augusta in match play in 2001. Jones has finished second three times in the last seven years.

“It’s been nine years,” said Jones of his last win in Sanford. “So I’m excited. When I was walking up 18 and I hit the shot to the middle of the green, it kind of hits you — all I had to do was three-putt.”

Jones finished with a three-round total of 204 followed by Stirling with 206. JJ Harris was third after a final-round 69 with a total of 212.  Gay shot a 74 Thursday and finished at 213, tied with Sam Grindle. Jack Wyman was at 214 followed by Mark Plummer at 216, after a third round of 73.

Stirling closed the gap quickly with three birdies on the first four holes. He birdied the first hole and followed that with a par. Then two straight birds had him within three.

“I just needed to keep making pars and grind it out and see if he slipped up,” Stirling said. “I just tried to play the best that I could.”

Jones had played even par through the first six holes but then bogeyed the seventh, and the lead was down to two strokes. On the eighth hole, the lengthy downpours caught up with the course. Play was halted after a few holes were deemed unplayable. Golfers retreated to the clubhouse for a delay that lasted 45 minutes.

When play resumed, Stirling saved par on eight, but a par putt on the ninth hole hit the cup and bounced out. He followed that with a double bogey on 10 and Jones’ lead was suddenly up to five.Stirling said the delay wasn’t a factor.

“I was still focused,” Stirling said. “It took me a while to get back in rhythm, but I was there. I had one slip up on 10 but other than that, it was pretty good. I thought I had a good putt on 10. It just slipped by and on the 10th hole, I just didn’t accelerate through the shot. “

Jones still wasn’t able to cruise. He birdied the 12th hole but bogeyed the next. He was even par the rest of the way.

“It was a consistent round,” Jones aid. “I was just trying to stay away from trouble. I knew I was playing good. So I just aimed for the middle of the greens and just tried to two putt.”

After his double bogey on 10, Stirling birdied 11 and added another bird on 14.  That put him within three but a bogey on 16 gave Jones some breathing room.

“I was just basically trying to keep hitting to the greens and keep it in play and make as many birdies as I could,” Stirling said.

He made it interesting with birdies on the final two holes and nearly chipped in for an eagle on 18.

“He’d made a mistake and throw another birdie out there and get right back into it,” Jones said.

Jones stayed calm and focused down the stretch. He knew how hard it was to finish off a round when in Stirling’s position.

“It’s hard to get the first one coming down the stretch,” Jones said. “When you get that first one, you learn how to handle the stress and the pressure. You know you have the butterflies coming in the first hole, but you just go out and play your game.”

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