Funk and DeFrancesco to finally play together

Two Maryland-area pros will be part of threesome in first two rounds of PGA

PGA Championship

August 15, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHASKA, Minn. -- Despite all their years competing on the Mid-Atlantic PGA, Fred Funk and Wayne DeFrancesco have never played together in a regular event. By the time Funk had started to establish himself after his career coaching at the University of Maryland, DeFrancesco's career was derailed by injuries.

That changes today.

The two Maryland-area pros -- Funk is from College Park but now lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; DeFrancesco was born in Washington but lives in Columbia -- will be part of a threesome in the first two rounds of the 84th PGA Championship at Hazeltine National.

Both are coming off strong performances.

Funk, who has won five times in his PGA Tour career, finished tied for second last week at the Buick Open. A week before, Funk led the John Deere Classic for two rounds before fading on the weekend. He also finished second three weeks ago at the B.C. Open.

DeFrancesco, an assistant pro at Woodholme Country Club in Baltimore who won last year's National Club Pro Championship, finished seventh trying to defend that title at Valhalla in Louisville in June. He also finished second in the State Open at Bulle Rock and third in the Mid-Atlantic PGA Assistants tournament at Whiskey Creek.

"I've got to play much better than I've been playing, because this golf course is so much harder," said DeFrancesco, who will turn 45 in a couple of weeks. "I'm just trying to be respectable, try to keep it around par."

Funk, 46, has a much higher goal.

He wants to be in contention on the weekend.

Though he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since 1998, Funk has played well enough to contend in a number of events. He was in the hunt last weekend in Michigan until Tiger Woods pulled away to win by four strokes over Funk and three others.

"I didn't make enough birdies to make Tiger think about it a little," Funk sad.

Funk's strength -- driving the ball onto the fairway -- should help him at Hazeltine. Though he's a rather short hitter, the fact that the 7,360-yard course is a par-72 (compared to a par-70 at Bethpage Black for this year's Open) should help Funk.

Funk has had mixed results recently in the PGA. He finished tied for ninth two years at Valhalla -- his second-best finish ever in a major -- and was second after shooting an opening round 66 last year at the Atlanta Athletic Club but wound up near the bottom (tied for 70th).

"If I'm driving it good and get the ball in play, I always have a chance," Funk said.

After playing practice rounds together at last year's PGA Championship, as well as at Medinah outside Chicago in 1999, Funk and DeFrancesco will finally get a chance to play in a real tournament that just happens to be a major.

"I think I can help him more than he can help me, but I think it's going to be fun," said Funk.

DeFrancesco was having more fun earlier in the week.

"I was hoping the tournament would start Sunday or Monday, I was playing better than I'm hitting it right now," said DeFrancesco, who has made the cut once [at Riviera in 1995] in three PGA Championship appearances. "You just get up and tee off and do what you've been working on and see what happens."

Ryder update

Every two years, there's a lot of anxiety going into the PGA Championship for playing on the cusp of making the Ryder Cup team. But this year's team was decided last year outside Atlanta, a few weeks before the event was postponed because of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

"I think it's probably been frustrating for some of the players that were really excited about playing, and I mean specifically the three guys who had not done it," U.S. captain Curtis Strange said. "But it's coming closer and closer, and we'll play the matches."

The matches will be at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, from Sept. 27 to 29.

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