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Saunders shoots 65, trails by one shot at NM Open

Sam Saunders hasn’t really needed a home-course advantage of late but a little local knowledge still comes in handy.

The Albuquerque native fired a rock-solid 65 Tuesday and stands just a shot off the pace after round one of the 65th annual Sandia Resort and Casino New Mexico Open. Jeff Burton of Scottsdale, Ariz., fired an 8-under-par 64 to claim the lead in the three-round event, which continues through Thursday at Sandia Golf Club.

Saunders, the former La Cueva High School and University of New Mexico standout, continued his hot summer by staying entirely out of trouble Tuesday.

“I don’t think I missed a fairway or a green all day,” he said. “The greens were super fast and I got myself above the hole a few times or I could have shot even better. But I didn’t have many stressful holes and I’ll take 65 every time.”

Saunders has put quite a few solid rounds together this summer. He won the San Juan Open in June, finished second in a playoff in July’s Colorado Open and tied for second at the Utah Open in August.

“Yeah, I’ve been playing really well lately,” he said. “Nothing spectacular, just really solid rounds.”

Saunders played in a particularly solid group Tuesday, joining locals David Muttitt and DJ Brigman, who shot 67 and 72, respectively. Players generally took advantage of the calm, sunny conditions as 45 of the 156 competitors finished under par. Notah Begay III narrowly missed joining them in the day’s final grouping. Begay shot an even-par 72.

Ryan Sperry of Ukiah, Calif., and Ben Hargis of Dallas will start today’s second round two shots off Burton’s pace. Muttitt and Las Cruces’ Isaac Merry were in a tie for fifth place two shots back.

Defending champion Tyler Torano of Chula Vista, Calif., shot 70 on Tuesday and is part of a large group tied for 25th place. Colorado’s Nick Mason, who won the event in 2015 and ’16, shot 72 on Tuesday.

The field will flip starting times for today’s round attempting to make a cut that will send the top 50 players (and ties) into Thursday’s final round. The first group is scheduled to tee off at 7:30 a.m.

Players are battling for shares of an $85,000 purse with the winner taking home $14,000.