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Thatcher drums up win

Paul Claxton ran his fingers through his red hair and offered a slight grin as he talked about his success -- or lack thereof -- when facing Roland Thatcher.

"He beats me like a drum every time we play each other," Claxton said. "I told him I'm officially his whipping boy. I'm his red-headed stepchild."

The beat continued for Thatcher at the Peek'n Peak Classic on Sunday when he tied a final-round record by shooting 4-under-par 68 to beat Claxton by three strokes in the Nationwide Tour event at Peek'n Peak Resort.

A 30-year-old native of Virginia and 2000 graduate of Auburn University, Thatcher earned a winner's check of $108,000 and won his first Nationwide Tour event since 2002 after shooting a 15-under 273, the lowest score in the six-year history of the Peek'n Peak Classic. He also moved into fourth on the 2007 Nationwide Tour money list with $242,611, virtually guaranteeing a promotion to the PGA Tour in 2008. The top 25 at the end of the season get the call.

Thatcher finished tied for second in the Henrico County (Va.) Open in April, and his last victory was in 2002 at the Bank of America Monterey Peninsula Classic.

"I'm excited to step back into the winner's circle because it's been a long time," said Thatcher, whose 68 tied John Merrick and Patrick Moore for the lowest final round in Peek'n Peak history. "You want to give yourself as many opportunities as possible, and when you don't cash in on those opportunities it starts to wear on you. . . . This is a tremendous relief."

Thatcher was the leader by one stroke after three rounds at 11 under, but Claxton overtook him briefly Sunday with three consecutive birdies to start the day. But when Claxton bogeyed the seventh and eighth holes, Thatcher answered with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to take the lead heading into the back nine.

Thatcher bogeyed 12 but bounced back with birdies on 13 and 16 to finish with 20 for the tournament. When he made a 15-foot putt for par on the par-3 14th hole for a four-stroke cushion over Claxton, Thatcher realized only a major meltdown would prevent him from winning.

"That completely cemented it," he said. "I would have had to make a large number of mistakes from that point on."

Claxton may view himself as Thatcher's stepchild, but he also stepped to the front of the Nationwide Tour money list with $270,921.

"[The list] changes every week, basically," he said. "You don't really have time to sit back and pat yourself on the back because there's a bunch of guys behind you waiting to beat your brains out."

Like Brock Mackenzie, whose rise into the Peek'n Peak top three was nearly improbable. Mackenzie, 154th on the money list at the start of the tournament, was tied for 22nd place at 2 under after Saturday's third round. But Mackenzie locked up a bogey-free Sunday, with four birdies on the front nine while closing with three on the back for a 7-under-par 65 to finish the tournament at 10 under. It was Mackenzie's best finish as a pro.

"I wasn't imagining I'd shoot 65 or even be able to," said Mackenzie, who earned $40,800. "I thought anything under par was going to be good today. To shoot 65 was just a bonus."

Mackenzie missed the cut in seven of his eight previous events.

"I've struggled this year, and I finally started putting well this week," Mackenzie said. "There's a huge stretch of tournaments coming up, and this should give me confidence. It's nice to play solid."

Scott Gardiner, who finished at 8 under, and Brenden Pappas, who shot 7 under, rounded out the top five.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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