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Strong field set for 73rd Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur

Great friends, great golfers and one goal during hometown rivalry week: beat one another to win the 73rd annual Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship, which begins today at Los Altos.

“I want to tie Tim (Madigan) and win three in a row,” says two-time defending champion Patrick Beyhan, who tees off at 11:48 a.m. today. “That’s the goal.”

“I want to keep Pat from getting a three-peat,” says Sam Saunders, who plays in the same group. “I finally broke through with a win last week, and the goal is to win another this week.”

Patrick Beyhan, hitting in last year’s tourney at Los Altos, is seeking his third win in a row. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Patrick Beyhan, hitting in last year’s tourney at Los Altos, is seeking his third win in a row. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Come fall, Beyhan will be a senior at New Mexico State and Saunders a senior at the University of New Mexico. They have had some epic battles over the years – against each other and as teammates at La Cueva High School, from where they graduated in 2010. Both used redshirt seasons in college, giving them a final run at NCAA fame in the coming season, and they could be two of the nation’s best.

But this weekend, it’s about being Albuquerque’s best.

The 54-hole event moves to Arroyo del Oso for Saturday’s second round and concludes Sunday at Los Altos.

“I know he’s been playing well, and he knows I’ve have been playing well,” said Beyhan, who had three top-10 finishes, including winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament individual title, this past season in college.

Saunders – like Beyhan – has qualified for the Public Links Amateur National Championship in Newton, Kan., later this month, and last week snapped a string of runner-up finishes by winning the New Mexico-West Texas Amateur at The Canyon Club.

The Sun Country Golf Association reports that Sam and older brother Steve are the only siblings to ever win the New Mexico-West Texas event. Steve also won the city meet in 2006, giving Sam a chance to put both Saunders names on that trophy, as well.

“Winning last week gets me over that hump of all those second-place finishes,” said Sam Saunders, who finished second in the New Mexico-West Texas Am two straight years and was second in the city event in two of the past three years. “You always tell yourself you think you can win, but it’s a big difference when you finally do win.”

When Saunders and Beyhan were teammates at La Cueva High, they helped the Bears to state titles in 2008 and 2010. Saunders won the 5A individual title in 2009, and Beyhan won the crown in 2010.

Last year, Beyhan set the City Championship record at 23 under – breaking the mark of 22 under set by Steve Saunders in 2006.

But before Beyhan and Sam Saunders can make it a mano a mano affair Sunday, they will have to distance themselves from a strong field that includes three-time champ Tim With, Hope Christian’s state 1-3A champion Sean Carlon – who also is qualified for National Publinx – James Lee, Jason Myers and Justin Knauber.

Rio Rancho’s Madigan, who won in 2008-10, is the most recent player to win three in a row. Ray Cragun has the record with five straight from 1972-76.