Fred Funk is nothing if not brutally honest, which is a rarity in his line of work.
A lot of professional golfers, over the course of their careers, learn to guard their emotions almost like politicians. They recycle old anecdotes, regurgitate cliches and try to keep the public at arm's length, especially after a bad round.
But Funk, who grew up in Takoma Park and was the golf coach at the University of Maryland from 1982 to 1988, is different. He doesn't have a problem acknowledging how badly he wants to win the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, which begins today at Baltimore Country Club. He doesn't mind discussing how angry he was with himself last year when he let the tournament slip away with a disappointing third-round 72. He'll even concede that he puts extra pressure on himself every time he tees it up in Maryland.
Funk, who finished second in this tournament last year - a shot behind D.A. Weibring - has spent his entire career yearning to win a tournament on his home soil but has never quite found a way to finish the job. He has had some great chances, both on the Champions Tour and on the PGA Tour, where he was in contention several times in the defunct Kemper Open. Each time he has been derailed by something, whether it was nerves, an injury or simply bad luck.
"It's always frustrating when you look back at how you gave shots away," said Funk, who is leading the standings for the Charles Schwab Cup, which recognizes the Champions Tour's leading player. "I did want it really bad. It's my home state, and I get so much support here. I would love to win something of this much significance and have that on my resume. Two years in a row, I've been in a position to win this thing. I'd just like to get myself in position again. It's nerve-racking, but it's fun. ... I do tend to put a little additional pressure on myself when I come up here."
Funk is the only player on the Champions Tour to finish in the top 10 in every major this year, highlighted by his six-stroke victory in the Senior U.S. Open this August. But according to Funk, something has been just slightly off with his game the past two weeks, and he's not sure he can get it corrected in time. He flew his swing coach, Jim Schuman, in from Wisconsin this week for a quick lesson, hoping to figure out what's wrong with his iron play.
"My game is kind of struggling a bit right now," Funk said. "But hopefully I'll turn that around overnight. Who knows?"
If Funk isn't the winner, there is still a good chance the trophy could go to a member of his first-round threesome, which tees off at 10:56 a.m. today. That's because it includes Tom Watson and Nick Price, two of the best ball-strikers on the Champions Tour. Watson missed this tournament last year when he was having hip-replacement surgery, but his second-place finish in this year's British Open at Turnberry proved he's still as good as anyone - regardless of age - when he's playing well.
The Kansas native, who turned 60 on Sept. 4, said he has received such an outpouring of support since he lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink, he's still responding to e-mails and notes that people send him saying they were inspired by his performance.
"I don't think it changed my life," Watson said. "I'm doing everything pretty much the same. But the wonderful thing has been the response from people. It's been overwhelming and humbling. I would have never have foreseen that for a guy finishing second in a golf tournament. I'm trying to contact everybody who has contacted me. The theme of it has been, 'You've given me hope. You've given me a second charge in my life. If you're doing this at 60 years old, maybe I can still do what I thought I couldn't do anymore.' That's the wonderful thing that's come of this."
Watson knows his chances will have as much to do with his putter as anything. Although he had a great week at Turnberry with the flat stick, two nervous strokes on the 18th green Sunday ultimately cost him the Open championship.
"I just haven't been very consistent with the putter for a decade, or a couple decades probably," Watson said. "That's the old golfer's lament."
Bernhard Langer had had his share of putting woes early in his career, but a switch to a long putter in the mid-1990s revived his game and now he's one of the best putters on the Champions Tour. He has won three times this year, and if he hits the ball straight this week, he's likely to be in contention.
"The greens here are so severe back to front," Langer said. "It's very hard to get the ball close to the hole. If you can't do that, it's very tough to make putts. Every downhill putt is lightning fast, and every side-hill putt has a huge amount of break to it."