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FARMINGTON — The San Juan Open returns to Farmington for the 51st year with the first round of the tournament beginning today at the San Juan Country Club.

The open has been one of the highest-paying professional tournaments in the state for years, handing out more than $77,000 during last year's event with $18,000 going to the winner.

David Crafton, the general manager at the SJCC, said that along with the big payday, the open provides players with activities outside the four-day tournament that other events don't offer.

"I think that, along with being unique with the pro and amateur events, we offer something a little different than other events around us," Crafton said. "It's really a nice event from an amenity standpoint."

There are 69 professionals signed up for this year's open, with eight of the top 10 finishers from last year returning to the field this weekend. However, 2014 champion Kent Jones, who won with a 7-under score of 273, will not be returning to defend his title.

Highlighting this year's field will be Jimmy Gunn, who just finished the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., tied for 27th, finishing the weekend 5-over par.

Gunn, 34, won the San Juan Open in 2013 but missed last year's event after qualifying for the Web.com Tour and playing in 20 events on the tour in 2014.

Also expect to challenge for the title is Dusty Fielding. Fielding won the Navajo Trails Open last weekend at Hillcrest Golf Club in Durango, Colo. During the Navajo Trails Open, Fielding shot a course-record 61 during Saturday's round. He finished last year's San Juan Open tied for eighth.

Jeff Roth, the head pro at the SJCC, will also be competing in this year's event. He finished tied for 15th in 2014.

The SJCC is a par-70 course and plays 6,450 yards from the tips.

Crafton said the course is in the best condition it has been in for years, and he wouldn't be surprised if this year's winning score comes in a few shots under last year's 7-under mark.

"Chris Heslin, our superintendent, has provided spectacular playing conditions," Crafton said. "The scores might be a little lower this year because all the rain we've been getting has the course playing a little softer."

The morning wave of tee times will begin at 7 a.m., with the afternoon tee times scheduled to go off at noon.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648 and kschneider@daily-times.com. Follow him @karltschneider on Twitter.

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