FARMINGTON — For the first time this century, the first-place prize for the Utah Open golf tournament will return to $20,000.

That's what the Utah Open winner received clear back in 1986, an amount that stayed consistent for a full decade.

Since 1995, the last time the winner's purse was $20,000, the first-place prize has gone as high as $40,000 for a year and as low as $5,000 for a year.

Now under the title sponsorship of the Siegfried and Jensen law firm and other local sponsors, the purse has climbed to $110,000 overall with $20,000 going to the winner. And it should stay there for awhile.

"That's been our goal for the past few years," said Scott Whitaker, executive director of the Utah Section PGA, which has overseen the tournament since 2000. "We always try to improve the event and we've been able to grow it. We feel pretty comfortable right now."

The annual tournament, which has been played since 1925 with the exception of one year, gets under way today at Oakridge Country Club, where it has been played four times previously, but not since 1977.

The field will be the strongest it's been in a decade with the likes of former champions Jay Don Blake and Boyd Summerhays as well as Nationwide Tour golfer Garrett Clegg and up-and-coming pros Clay Ogden, Jake Ellison and Zach Johnson, regulars on the Butch Harmon Tour in Las Vegas.

Blake has perhaps the best record of anyone in Utah Open history with nine top-six finishes between 1979 and 1989, including a victory in 1988. The 48-year-old PGA Tour veteran has been battling a back injury for the past couple of years and is gearing up to play on the Champions Tour in 2010.

Summerhays and Clegg, a pair of Davis County natives, have been playing the Nationwide Tour most of the year but prefer to play at home this week. Summerhays grew up playing the Oakridge layout and knows it as well as anyone in the tournament.

Ogden, who earned a spot in the Masters last year as an amateur, graduated from BYU in the spring and is off to a great start as a professional. He won his first two starts on the Butch Harmon Tour, earning $11,000 for each victory. Ellison, a former BYU golfer, and Johnson, who finished second in last year's Open, have also won money on the Las Vegas tour.

Another player to keep an eye on is defending champion Pete Stone of Bountiful. A year ago at Talons Cove, Stone beat Johnson by one shot, making a spectacular birdie on the final hole thanks to a 7-iron shot that ended up five feet away from the hole.

Other former champions in the field are Mike Malaska (1974), J.B. Sneve (1995), Kim Thompson (2001), Steve Friesen (2003), Greg Buckway (2004) and Nick McKinlay (2005).

Among the other pros to watch are Steve Schneiter, Brett Wayment, Henry White, Todd Tanner, Ryan Ellis, Chris Moody, Ryan Rhees, Mark Owen, Barry Schenk and Nick Becker. Former champion Jimmy Blair withdrew after qualifying for this week's Champions Tour event.

The tournament also features 35 amateurs, who will be trying to match Buckway's feat of winning as an amateur in 2004.

Besides Buckway, other amateurs to watch include State Amateur champion Nick Nelson, Dustin Pimm, Chance Cota, Chris Gresh, Kirk Siddens, Dan Horner, State Am runner-up Scott Clark and Tyson Lund. Cole Ogden, the 15-year-old younger brother of Clay Ogden, may be the youngest player in the field.

The 54-hole tournament runs through Sunday at Oakridge. The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after Saturday's second round.

Besides the increased purse, the tournament's charity beneficiary, Special Olympics Utah, will also be taking home a sizable contribution.

"We are excited to announce that Special Olympics Utah will be receiving a check from the tournament in the amount of $25,000," said Tournament Chairman Ned Siegfried.


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