FINDLEY LAKE -- When the winds kick up and the greens are baked, the back nine at Peek'n Peak can be treacherous. Paul Claxton found out just how perilous it can be on Saturday.
After firing back-to-back rounds of 6-under par 66 for a two-day record of 12-under-par 132, the 39-year-old Georgia native owned a four-shot lead heading into Saturday's third round of the Nationwide Tour Peek'n Peak Classic.
Claxton started off well enough. He was 2-under on the day before the nerve-racking back nine when he hit four bogies and no birdies to finish at 2-over 74.
That left Claxton at 10 under for the tournament and enabled Roland Thatcher to pass him on the leader board. The 30-year-old Virginia native shot 3-under 69 to go into today's final round one stroke ahead at 11-under.
For Thatcher, playing in his 99th Nationwide event, a win today would be his first of the year and the second of his career. His best finish this year was a tie for second in the Henrico County Open back in April and his last tour victory was in 2002 at the Bank of America Monterey Peninsula Classic.
Thatcher is currently 10th on the money list with $134,611 on the Nationwide Tour, a testing place for players to refine their skills and ultimately advance to the PGA Tour. A top 25 finish at the end of the season earns players an automatic spot with the PGA Tour next season.
"It's a better position than I've ever been on any point of my career on this tour," Thatcher said. "I'm definitely trying to go out there and make a move as early in the year as possible and not have to wait as late in the year as I have in the past."
Despite Saturday's troubles. Claxton stands alone in second place. Brenden Pappas, Kelly Grunewald and Joe Daley are next, three strokes back at 8-under, while Tjaart van der Walt, Scott Gardiner and Michael Letzig are at 7-under.
"I would have taken it at the start of the week," Thatcher said. "I'm a little disappointed with the way I played the back nine, but it was tough out there. The winds were blowing and the greens were baked and very difficult to putt. . . . But that's golf."
Nearly the entire field seemed to be affected by the windy conditions and dry greens, with only Pappas and Daley shooting bogey-free rounds. Pappas shot the low round of the day with a 7-under 65, elevating the South African native from a tie for 44th place into a tie for third.
"I know the golf course, it's never over until it's over," Pappas said. "I think a good score out there today was a 69, so I exceeded that by four shots."
The par-4, 480-yard 15th hole was the most challenging, yielding just two birdies for the round. The 15th hole was where Claxton got his fourth and final bogey on the afternoon. By that time, he already had company near the top of the leader board.
"The course firmed up a lot," he said. "I was first off in the morning [on Friday] and I had no wind and perfect conditions. Then I had the opposite [Saturday]. I had the worst greens and then a 15-20 mph breeze. It happens. You just have to stay patient and not lose your positive attitude out there."
Claxton started the back nine with a bogey on 10 but recovered with a par on 11. Then he gave up the lead with a bogey on the par-3 12th before with bogeys on 14 and 15. He played the remaining three holes at par. Still, Claxton felt he hit only one bad shot on the par-3 14th.
"I was trying to hit a low, hard 7-iron and I just pulled it," said Claxton, who got a workout on his sand game on the back nine with three bunker shots. "The tee shot on 15 was a pretty good shot but the wind got it and with the hard ground it kicked 90 degrees to the right in the bunker. Things happen."