5 Things: Western Refining features best of the best

Brandon Hagy of University of California during the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

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EL PASO, Texas – The Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic gets underway Monday at El Paso Country Club. The 54-hole event is the all-star game of college golf, with the field limited to last year’s All-Americans, the U.S. Amateur champion and the Division II player of the year. Here’s 5 Things you need to know as Monday's 36-hole day gets underway:

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1. SUNDAY FUNDAY: Sunday was a relaxing practice day on the tournament’s eve. It wasn’t devoid of competition, though. There was a long-drive and putting contest for participants. Close followers of college golf won’t be surprised to learn that Cal’s Brandon Hagy won the long-drive competition with a 362-yard poke on El Paso’s first hole. His winning tee shot was more than 20 longer than his nearest competitor. The shot wasn’t aided by wind or a downhill fairway. It was hit on a cool, cloudy morning to a flat fairway. UNLV’s Kevin Penner won the putting contest by three shots with a 19. The obstacle course forces players to putt around Western-themed items, and even to ride a saddle while putting on one hole.

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2. FEATURED PAIRING: Every player in the field is one of college golf's elite players, but there are two threesomes Monday that stand out from the rest. Alabama's Cory Whitsett, Chattanooga's Steven Fox and Illinois' Thomas Pieters tee off at 8:30 a.m. off El Paso's first tee. Their grouping brings together the reigning Western Refining, U.S. Amateur and NCAA Championship winners.

Clemson's Chris Patton is the only player to win the Western Refining in consecutive years (1988-89). He's also the only multiple winner of this title. Whitsett will try to match him.

Whitsett is No. 112 in this year's Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Fox, who recently played his first practice round at Augusta National in preparation for the 2013 Masters, is No. 76. Pieters is 110th. A good showing here would give them confidence as they head into the mid-season break.

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3. FEATURED PAIRINGS (PART 2): In front of them is the group of Alabama's Justin Thomas, Stanford's Patrick Rodgers and Cal's Brandon Hagy. They're the highest-ranked players in the field, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Thomas is No. 4, while Rodgers is sixth and Hagy is 11th. All three won this fall. Thomas won the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, Rodgers claimed both the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational and U.S. Collegiate and Hagy won the Alister Mackenzie Invitational.

Thomas' victory at the Pate was his fifth in 15 career starts; the sophomore, last year's Haskins Award winner, already has tied the school record for victories. Rodgers, also a sophomore, posted dominant victories at two of the season's biggest events. He won the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational by five strokes, and the U.S. Collegiate by four. His victory at the U.S. Collegiate was his fourth in 15 starts. Hagy, a junior, won his first collegiate title at the Alister Mackenzie. He and Thomas were semifinalists at this year's U.S. Amateur. Hagy also won the California State Fair Amateur before the college season.

Thomas, Rodgers and Hagy are all making their Western Refining debuts.

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4. SHARK ATTACK: Nova Southeastern's Ben Taylor is the only non-Division I player in the field. The junior from Leatherhead, England, is the reigning Division II player of the year. He's fifth in the Golfstat Cup, which ranks players across all levels of collegiate golf (the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings only rank Division I players). He's the highest-ranked player in the field, according to the Golfstat Cup.

Taylor had two victories and four runners-up in 11 tournaments, with a 70.94 scoring average, in the 2011-12 season. Taylor had two victories and two runners-up in his first four starts this year.

Taylor also represented Great Britain & Ireland at this year's St. Andrews Trophy, a team match between GB&I and Continental Europe. He finished third at the 2011 Jones Cup, one of the United States' top amateur events.

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5. LEGENDARY: The tournament's slogan is "Where Legends Get Started," and for good reason. When your field includes the top college players, it's a guarantee that you're going to have some future PGA Tour winners in the field. The cover of the tournament program features photos of Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, David Toms, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell. All are past participants in the tournament. Past Western Refining participants have amassed more than 570 PGA Tour titles, including 45 majors. More than 40 have participated in the Ryder Cup. Past participants have earned a combined $1.4 billion on the PGA Tour.

Past champions here who went on to PGA Tour victories include Webb Simpson (2007), Chris Kirk (2006), Kuchar (1999), Woods (1995), Notah Begay (1994), Chris Riley (1993), Robert Damron (1992), David Duval (1991), Billy Mayfair (1986), Sam Randolph (1985), Love III (1984), Billy Ray Brown (1982), Willie Wood (1981), Jay Don Blake (1980), Gary Hallberg (1978), Scott Simpson (1976) and Jerry Pate (1974).

Other past participants at the Western Refining include Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, three Haases (Jay, Jerry and Bill), Tom Lehman and Lucas Glover.

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