MANCHESTER – Seth Sweet says he prefers to play the role of the hunted, particularly in big tournaments.

He’ll be just that at the 94th Maine Amateur, which begins Tuesday at the Augusta Country Club.

“I like being the guy out front and having other people chase me,” Sweet said. “I use it to my advantage. Hopefully, I can do it again.”

Sweet, of Madison, is the defending Maine Amateur champion. He is scheduled to tee off at 7 a.m. Tuesday in a group that includes 13-time Maine Amateur winner Mark Plummer, who won his last title in 2002.

Three-time Maine Amateur winner Ryan Gay, of Pittston, will tee off at 7:20 a.m. Gay, who graduated from St. John’s University in the spring, said he will turn pro after the Maine Amateur.

“This is my last one,” he said. “Obviously, at Augusta, it’s pretty special. But I’m pumped up and ready to go.”

So is Sweet, who acknowledged he enters this tournament with a little more pressure.

“Last year, I don’t think I was over-looked but I was under the radar a bit,” he said.

“This year, I have a big target on my back. I’m going to use it as fuel, but I know it’s a lot easier to win this thing a first time than it is to defend it. I’m definitely on the radar this year.”

Sweet won the tournament at Sunday River Golf Club last year by finishing three rounds with a 3-over 219. He held off late rallies from two-time tournament winner Ricky Jones and JJ Harris, a Bath native who’s finished runner-up in each of the last two seasons. Both finished three shots behind Sweet.

Augusta Country Club will play to 6,214 yards with a par of 70. The course plays quite a bit shorter than Sunday River, which played to more than 7,000 yards.

More bunkers and difficult pin placements will greet golfers this week. So, too, will ample birdie opportunities.

“Wedge play will be key,” Sweet said. “I’ve been working on that part of my game. I’ve also been working on course management. I may take more of a conservative route. The course is shorter so you are going to have to play disciplined.”

Added Gay: “The pins are going to be in tricky places. It’s going to be tough. There are a lot of tough golfers out there. I’m going to go out and do my best for three days. If it’s good enough, good. If it’s not, then it’s back to the drawing board. Traditionally, if you shoot under par at the Maine Am then you will be in position to win.”

Sweet is one of five returning champions in the field. He is the only one with just one title.

There are 132 players in the field.

The low 40 scores, plus ties, after 36 holes will advance to the final round Thursday.

“It will be nice to go out on top before turning pro,” Gay said, “but it won’t be easy. There are a lot of guys who can light this course up.”

Kennebec Journal’s Bill Stewart can be contacted at 621-5640 or at:

bstewart@centralmaine.com