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No wonder golfers from all over the country flock to Willow Creek Country Club to play in the University Hospital-Utah Open every year. The tournament has turned out to be a springboard to success on the PGA Tour for five of the last six winners.

It happened again to Dennis Paulson, winner of last year's rain-shortened tournament. Later in the year he made it through the grueling PGA qualifying tournament and so far this year has stayed among the top 125 money-winners.Paulson joined the likes of 1992 winner Grant Waite, 1990 winner Mark Carnevale and 1989 winner Neal Lancaster, who have all become regulars on the PGA Tour. The 1988 winner, St. George's Jay Don Blake, was already a PGA regular when he won, but he soon after his Utah Open win, he won his first PGA event and has been a top player ever since. Only 1991 champ Eric Hogg, among the recent champs, has failed to make it on the PGA Tour.

So who will it be this year?

A host of candidates will try beginning Friday morning in the 54-hole tournament at the par-72 Willow Creek layout.

Among the top out-of-state pros to watch are Warren Schutte, a former NCAA champ from UNLV, E.J. Pfister, a former all-American from Oklahoma State, ex-Weber State star Scott Geroux and John Miller Jr., son of Johnny Miller.

Pros with PGA Tour experience include Greg Chapman of Houston, Danny Briggs of Phoenix and Brandt Jobe of Littleton, Colo.

Other top out-of-state pros are Albuquerque's Ray Cragun, who beat all the local pros at the West Ridge Open last month, Bill Loeffler, who has won several Colorado Open titles and Arizonans Jay Pennypacker and Jason Spitler, who tied for low honors in this week's qualifying.

Utah has plenty of top players who could contend for the champion's trophy. The list starts with former champs Hogg and Jimmy Blair and includes Roy Christensen, Dave DeSantis, Matt Johnson, Mike Malaska, Ryan Rhees, Steve Schneiter, Milan Swilor, Kim Thompson and others.

After Saturday's second round, the field will be cut to the low 60 players, plus ties. The winner gets $20,000 out of a total purse of $100,000.

OPEN NOTES: Paulson will not be back, even though last year he vowed he would "be back to defend my title next year, unless I'm dead." As a member of the PGA Tour, Paulson is required to play at this week's PGA event in Colorado or not play at all . . . While the most common name in the tournament is Johnson (there's Matt, Chris, Jay, Lance and Tom) the second most popular name is Abegglen. All three Abegglen brothers, Kirk, Kent and Kris, are playing this week . . . There would have been three Summerhayses, but Bruce qualified for this week's senior event in Minnesota and withdrew. His son Joseph, the State Amateur runner-up and nephew Boyd, the 15-year-old sensation, will both play.