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Beyhan breaks mark in City Am

Sam Saunders, shown rejoicing after sinking a putt on the ninth hole at Arroyo del Oso on Saturday, is two shots off the pace heading into today’s final round in the City Amateur. (ROBERT E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

Sam Saunders, shown rejoicing after sinking a putt on the ninth hole at Arroyo del Oso on Saturday, is two shots off the pace heading into today’s final round in the City Amateur. (ROBERT E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shoots 61 to enter final round up by 2

The 69th annual Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship has turned from an open into an invitational.

An invite for two in today’s final round of the event.

Defending champion Patrick Beyhan took direct aim on Arroyo del Oso during Saturday’s second round. He fired a course- and tournament-record 11-under 61 to take the lead heading into’s today’s final round of the 54-hole event at Los Altos.

He’s at 19-under 125 after opening with an 8-under 64 on Friday at Los Altos.

Here’s the kicker.

He has just a two-shot lead.

“I had no idea how he was playing,” 2011 runner-up and first-round leader Sam Saunders said of Beyhan, who played on the opposite side of the course of Beyhan. “I figured he was going to go low, because he’s been playing really well. But I did think 64 would be good enough to hold the lead. That’s awesome for Pat.”

Saunders followed up his 9-under 63 on Friday with a 64 at Arroyo on Saturday for a 17-under 127.

But it’s still anybody’s tournament – for third place. The two former La Cueva high school teammates have simply dusted the rest of the field. Neither has made a bogey in the tournament.

Grant Storey, Justin Knauber and three-time champion Tim With share third at 2-under, a whopping 17 shots off the lead. Sean Carlon is in sixth at 1-under. No other player is under par.

“Those guys could hit 22-under before they even make the turn (today),” 2006 champion and Sam’s older brother Steve Saunders told the Journal on Saturday. “Wow, those scores are ridiculous!”

Steve, who is now playing on the PGA Canadian Tour, finished 22-under when he won it. That is the tournament record for a 54-hole event. It also has been 72 holes in past years.

Steve still shares the single-round tournament record with James Gehrke (2007) – and now Beyhan. But Steve Saunders and Gehrke shot their 61s at Los Altos when it was a par 71. Beyhan is believed to be the first to ever shoot 61 in the tournament on a par 72 course.

“So I got it? Nice!” Beyhan said, when being informed his score was also Arroyo’s competitive course record. “But honestly, I wanted the 59. I was really trying for a 59.”

Tony Hidalgo, Arroyo’s director of golf, said the course best was a 62 – shot by a player during a stop on the now defunct Hooters Pro Tour.

Beyhan started Saturday on the back nine. He birdied his first three holes on the way to a 6-under 30 on that side.

He made an eagle 3 on the par-5 first hole (his 10th) to go 8-under. His made three more birdies on his 12th, 14th and 15 holes, then left a birdie putt on the right lip on his 16th hole. He closed the round with two up-and-downs, making testy 12-footers on each.

“My putting saved me. I didn’t chip it very well today,” said Beyhan, who needed only 24 putts.

Beyhan and Saunders haven’t been in the same group yet this weekend. But playing together isn’t exactly unfamiliar turf.

“We’ve played together hundreds of time,” Saunders said with a grin. “I’ve played him a number of times this summer for a little cash, and have actually taken him down every time. But now I have to make up two shots, so it’s going to be tougher.”

When asked about their mano-y-mano competition this year, Beyhan smiled.

“Sam has beaten me every time this year until (Saturday),” said Beyhan, who redshirted this past year at New Mexico State after transferring from Western New Mexico and is a rising junior. “He’s been playing so great, and I know he’ll keep making birdies. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“There won’t be any extra pressure playing in the same group, because we’re both good friends. I really think it’s going to be a real birdie-fest.”

If that happens, Steve Saunders’ tournament-scoring record is sure to fall.

Sam thinks it’s a foregone conclusion.

“I think I might have to put up a 61 of my own (today) to win it,” he said, “and that still might not even be good enough.”

NOTES: Bueno Foods and Toro helped sponsor this year’s event .

… The tournament committee is volunteers Colby Reddoch, Chris Moya, Wally Iverson and Paul Todesco.

… The field was reduced to the low 15 and ties in both the Championship (148 or better) and Presidents (158) flights for today’s final round …

Paul Robinson is 3-over 147 and leads the Presidents Flight (handicaps 2.0-6.0) by two shots over Scott Jaynes. Travis Carpenter is three back.

… In the Senior Flight, Mike Nelson leads at 1-under with Rich Goff two back.