Defending champion Tom McKnight of Galax sank a five-foot birdie putt on the 33rd hole and shot par on the next hole to defeat Portsmouth's J.P. Leigh, 3 and 2, for the Virginia State Amateur golf championship yesterday at the Country Club of Fairfax.

McKnight, who regained amateur status in 1983 after playing the PGA Tour during 1976-80, became the tournament's first repeat winner since Curtis Strange in 1974-75. He shot one-over-par 72 in yesterday's morning round and was 1 up.

After coming from four holes down to win his semifinal with Roanoke's Miller Baber on Friday, Leigh kept pace with McKnight until the back nine of the afternoon round.

"This means just as much to me this year as it did last year. I just feel more comfortable winning it this time, having won it before," McKnight said. "You can't ever downplay (the significance of) the state amateur tournament."

The match was as unpredictable as the weather, which alternated between light rain and brilliant sunshine. McKnight, 30, had only one bad stretch, on the morning back nine.

He won the first two holes and went ahead by four when Leigh bogeyed the 220-yard par-3 sixth. Leigh, the medalist with 142 for 36 qualifying holes, swung back into it with birdies at 12 and 16 and McKnight's bogey at 18, and Leigh birdied the 19th to even the match.

McKnight took a two-hole lead with a birdie at the 21st and Leigh's bogey at 22. From there, play seesawed. Leigh birdied 23, but bogeyed 24. McKnight bogeyed 25 but birdied 26.

Leigh birdied the next hole, but again followed with a bogey to go 2 down with eight holes remaining. He saved a half somehow on the 525-yard, dogleg 30th (Fairfax's No. 12) after his tee shot landed against a fence and he had to hit into the fairway left-handed.

Both parred the next two holes before McKnight's key birdie five-footer.

"Hey, second's better than third any day," Leigh said. " . . . It was just that every time I hit a birdie, I seemed to get a bogey on the next hole. To beat McKnight, you've got to shoot better than three over.

"There'll be other repeaters in the future, just as soon as McKnight gets back in the pro ranks," Leigh added with a broad smile. "He's the best amateur in Virginia by far. He didn't even play his best golf today. If he had, forget it."