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Golf

Ryder Cup takes all of Funk's focus

Some may disagree with his methods of trying to make the U.S. team, but Fred Funk keeps his eye on the prize.

By BOB HARIG
Published August 10, 2004

HAVEN, Wis. - Give Fred Funk credit for candor. He knew there would be repercussions for skipping last month's British Open, a tournament won by a player ranked lower in the world than him at the time. He understood the criticism and is fine with it.

But Funk had a goal of making this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team, one that superseded his obvious desire to win a major championship. And he was willing to put up with the flak to fulfill a dream.

"I was doing what was best for me," Funk said Monday after a practice round for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. "Why should I go to a venue or to a course that I have zero good history at? I've got my best chance ever to make a Ryder Cup team, and I expected to get some criticism. It was like it was taboo to skip a major. I was looking at what's best for me.

"My focus, the top of the mountain, the Ryder Cup, is up there. I want to make the Ryder Cup team a heck of a lot more than I wanted to play in the British Open."

If it seems strange someone would put a team eventplayed for pride and no money ahead of one of the game's biggest championships, consider Funk's career.

The former golf coach at the University of Maryland, Funk, 48, is in his 16th season on the PGA Tour. He has won five times, but has just four top 10s at major championships, including this year's U.S. Open. And in four trips to the British Open, he missed three cuts and finished 73rd.

This week's PGA Championship is the last opportunity for players to make the team. The top 10 through Sunday automatically make the squad. Players receive points for top-10 finishes, and this week those points are doubled. Captain Hal Sutton will then have two at-large selections, which he will announce Monday.

The top seven members of the team are virtually secure: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, David Toms and Chad Campbell. Funk is eighth, followed by Steve Flesch and 50-year-old Jay Haas, who moved into the last position with a fifth-place finish Sunday at the International.

"To me, the bonus would be the win and the real goal is the Ryder Cup," Funk said. "I really want to make that. At this stage of my career, which is pretty close to the end for the regular tour ... I just really want to make this team. I think it will be my last chance.

"I didn't realize how big a deal it was until last year. I played the Presidents Cup (United States against an international team outside of Europe) for the first time. It was such a different atmosphere, representing your country, playing in a team aspect, in what is normally a totally individual sport.

"We had so much fun, it was a blast. The pressure's totally different. No question, there's a lot more pressure on you. You just don't want to let down your teammates."

Funk, who is ranked 46th in the world, moved to eighth on the points list after tying for second July25 at the U.S. Bank Championship near Milwaukee. He then withdrew from the Buick Open because of a rib injury that Funk hopes is completely healed by Thursday.

One of the reasons he was criticized for skipping the British Open was he elected to play in the B.C. Open the same week. The tournament had a weaker field, but Ryder Cup points still were available. (Funk finished 40th, earning zero points.) Several players voiced displeasure, including Stewart Cink, who is 12th in the standings. "I think it's wrong," he said. "I don't think you should be able to do it. To me, you've got to put the majors ahead of the Ryder Cup."

Funk understood.

"It wasn't unfair criticism," he said. "Just skipping the British Open when you're exempt for it, and a double whammy when I actually played an event opposite the British. That was a double slap. But my whole goal was what was best for me. It wasn't hard to look at my resume at the British Open. Pretty poor. ... My goal was the Ryder Cup."

[Last modified August 9, 2004, 23:42:14]


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