Inspired Funk shares PGA lead

Former Maryland coach, Furyk net 1st-round 68s

6 within 2 at rainy Hazeltine

August 16, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHASKA, Minn. - Watching her husband walk off the 18th green late yesterday afternoon at Hazeltine National Golf Club, Sharon Funk couldn't hold back the tears. Her emotions had to do with more than what Fred Funk accomplished in the 84th PGA Championship's opening round.

It was about trying to turn near tragedy into personal triumph.

Had Funk won last week's Buick Open - he tied for second - he said he would have dedicated his sixth PGA Tour victory to his 57-year-old brother Bernie, who checked himself into a Florida hospital to start rehabilitation after suffering from alcoholism and depression for years.

Should Funk go from sharing the opening-round lead with Jim Furyk at 4-under par 68 to winning, the former University of Maryland golf coach likely will credit his big brother for giving him the courage to overcome the self-doubts that have plagued Funk from time to time.

"It has helped me, no question about it," Funk said. "To see a guy who has been suffering admit that he needs help, that meant a lot to me. It just makes you proud. Last week, I kept telling myself that my brother has shown a lot of strength and that I could do the same when it came to playing golf."

Some of those thoughts were with Funk yesterday.

After waiting out a nearly three-hour delay because of lightning and rain - 39 players will return this morning to finish their first rounds - Funk played like a man who had contended in the year's first three majors instead of one who had not even qualified for the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

With the help of a hot putter - one on which his caddie and former Terrapin player Mark Long wrote "Fear the Turtle" after Maryland won last season's NCAA basketball championship - Funk made several long birdies and saved par twice on the back nine, including a 7-footer on the par-4 18th hole.

"It was probably my best putting round all year," said Funk. "I was actually adding up my putts before I putted out on 18. I was just trying to kill time, and I thought, if I made this, it will be only 24 for the day. That's the good news. The bad news, I didn't hit it as good as I've been hitting all week."

Funk and Furyk lead Peter Lonard of Australia and Justin Rose of England by one stroke. Former PGA champions Davis Love and Jeff Sluman, two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and former British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia were two strokes behind.

Looking to win three majors in the same year for the second time, Tiger Woods shot 1-under par 71. Woods was in a group of seven players that included former major champions Vijay Singh, Minnesota native Tom Lehman and Nick Faldo.

"It's good to be up top for a while," said Funk, who has been runner-up twice in the past three weeks but hasn't won since 1998. "Woods is still right there, at 1-under and from what I hear, he didn't play that well today. So the cream will rise to the top, they usually do, that's why they play four rounds."

At last year's PGA Championship outside Atlanta, Funk was in second place after an opening-round 66 but ended near the bottom, tied for 70th. Two years ago, Funk's tie for ninth in the PGA Championship in Louisville was only his second top 10 in a major.

This year was the first that Funk, 46, failed to qualify for any of the first three majors.

Furyk also missed the cut in each of the first three majors. But his poor performances were offset by a victory at the Memorial Tournament in late May - his seventh in his PGA Tour career - and, more importantly, by the birth of his first child in late June.

"I have one more to root for me, so that's good," Furyk, 32, said of his daughter, Caleigh Lynn. "It's been a great experience. It will be a never-ending experience. I didn't know if it would change my outlook. It's nice walking off the golf course. Whether you play good or bad, she doesn't know the difference."

Questioned early in his career because of a less than textbook swing, Furyk has contended in a number of majors but never won. He tied for fifth in the U.S. Open in both 1996 and 1997, was fourth in the British Open in 1997 and 1998, and tied for fourth in the 1998 Masters. He has three top 10 finishes in the PGA Championship.

"I'd love to win major championships," Furyk said. "The goal every week is to come out and give yourself opportunities. So far this year I haven't done that."

Said Funk: "I think, with my game, when I'm playing well, I would have a better record in majors than I do. It's frustrating that I have not played well in more majors than I have. I get caught up in the moment maybe a little too much, or if becomes too important to me, I don't relax."

With the help of a sports psychologist, Funk has straightened out some putting woes. But the new calm he feels also comes from the struggles that his brother has tried to overcome. Just last week, Funk's brother sent him a book from Alcoholics Anonymous called One Day At A Time.

"I have to learn to take things one day at a time, a shot at a time," Funk said last night. "I'm really trying to let it happen."

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