Win slipping from grasp, Funk holds onto humor

Former UM golf coach is four shots off pace

Golf

August 18, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHASKA, Minn. - He had lost a share of the lead and, given his past formula for winning on the PGA Tour, a realistic chance at victory here at Hazeltine National Golf Club in the 84th PGA Championship.

After a long day that followed a sleepless night, Fred Funk did not lose his humor or perspective. All he lost was a couple of strokes to par, and given the conditions yesterday, that wasn't so bad at all.

It began early in the morning, when the former University of Maryland golf coach returned for the final five holes of a second round suspended by lightning Friday night. Despite two bogeys, a miraculous chip-in birdie and a putt that somehow managed to fall in for par left Funk tied with four others for the lead at 6-under par.

It ended early last night, when Funk overcame a bogey on the opening hole of the third round that could have been worse and finished with a 1-over 73, leaving him at 5-under 211 and four strokes behind the leader, Justin Leonard.

"That settled me down, when I made that bogey putt," said Funk, whose tee shot landed in a bunker filled with water left over from the three inches of rain that fell Friday night. "I actually played pretty solid the rest of the day. I didn't shoot myself out of it completely. Obviously, I've got to play well tomorrow with Justin playing as well as he has."

Funk, 46, spent another afternoon soaking in the adulation and appreciation of the fans. Today, things could get a little crazy when Funk will be paired with Tiger Woods, who'll try to overcome a five-stroke deficit.

"Tiger and I are really good friends," said Funk. "I think he enjoys playing with me. I kind of kid him all day long, and he gives me a hard time all day long. We just kind of go back and forth. It's a lot of fun. I love watching him play."

When Funk's 50-foot chip from deep rough flew straight into the hole for a birdie on the par-5 seventh hole in the morning, he raised his arms, slapped high-fives with playing partner and Woodholme assistant pro Wayne DeFrancesco, then plucked his ball out of the cup and gave it a kiss before handing it to a little girl in the gallery.

The chants of "Freddie, Freddie" began again, and continued throughout the day.

"It's not distracting," Funk said. "I'm really enjoying it. It's a lot of fun. I think the looseness that I showed and the fun and the enthusiasm I've been showing all week, it's going over to the fans and they are having a good time. They see me having a good time. I kind of feel like Freddie Couples must feel when you heard `Freddie' all day. I've always been the other Fred."

Funk joked with his caddie, Mark Long, who played for Funk at Maryland.

"I told my caddie it might be a little Funk-fest out here or something," said Funk. "I was hoping I was going to make a little more noise today, give them more opportunities to do something."

Part of Funk's fun-loving nature this week has come from the struggles of his older brother Bernie, who entered a Florida hospital recently to be treated for alcoholism and depression.

"It's the chicken-and-egg thing," said Funk. "Did my good attitude give me a chance to play well, or did I play well and have my good attitude? I don't know. I was pretty confident coming in here, as far as the way I've been playing. I expected to play well. I was drawing strength from my brother.

"There is no reason to be all glum on the golf course when you see somebody so close to you have the strength to do what he's done, to turning things around. I'm pretty good-natured in general, and when I let myself be that way, is usually when I do play well, so that's what I need to do. I've been told that by my brother, by my wife, by my mom and dad."

Funk knows the chances of his winning today are long, given the increasingly difficult conditions of the course and the fact that all five of his PGA Tour victories - the last in 1998 - came when he was either leading or tied for the lead going into the final round. His best previous finish in a major was a tie for seventh in the 1993 U.S. Open.

"That would be unbelievable," he said. "It would be an incredible thing. I wouldn't need to do anything else. But I would still be happy with my career, even if I didn't win tomorrow. But that would be the icing. I couldn't even put words on it. I don't think I'd be able to talk tomorrow for a long time because I would be so emotional."

He'd also be a physical wreck.

All that fist-pumping and high-fiving can wear a guy out.

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