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Big shots bow to Funk

Powerhouses bow to the diminutive Fred Funk, who dodges the wind to rule the Players by a shot.

By BOB HARIG
Published March 29, 2005


PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Small enough to get lost in the treacherous rough, slight enough to be blown away by the gale-force winds, Fred Funk stood tall against the best field in golf.

He avoided the high grass, hit solid shots through the howling wind, and captured the most important title of his career Monday at the Players Championship.

Nowhere to be seen were golf's Big Four, who left feeling pretty feeble after a brutal day at the TPC-Sawgrass.

"I kind of felt like Herbie the Love Bug, because I'm just out there hitting my little pea-shooters, and the bombers are going 40 (yards) by me, everybody I was playing with," the 5-foot-8 Funk said. "To come at this stage in my career and against this strong a field, all these power guys. ... It's a great feeling."

Funk, 48, became the oldest winner of the tournament (by seven years) and won $1.44-million from the $8-million purse.

It was the seventh PGA Tour title for the former University of Maryland golf coach and it took five long days to get it. After numerous weather delays, the field was greeted Monday by cool, windy conditions that saw gusts up to 40 mph.

That caused scores to soar. There were 69 rounds over par, including 16 in the 80s, during the final round. The scoring average of 76.512 was the highest ever for the final round. Funk's 1-under-par 71 was one of just 10 under par and was punctuated by a 5-foot par-saving putt at the brutal par-4 18th - which did not yield a birdie all day.

Funk had to get up and down from a greenside bunker, then waited as Luke Donald was unable to birdie the final hole to tie him.

"He made some great putts, especially on the front nine," said Adam Scott, who won the tournament last year and played in the same group with Funk. "He just did what he had to do to get him a chance. He played really solid, and it just goes to show that you don't have to overpower the course in these conditions. He was, as he always is, right down the middle of every fairway and hit beautiful shots into the greens and made a few putts."

Funk finished at 279, 9 under par, against a field that started with the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 82 of the top 100. Scott Verplank (70) bogeyed the 18th hole to finish a stroke back, tied with Donald (76) and Tom Lehman, whose 68 included a missed 12-footer for birdie at the 18th. Joe Durant could have tied with birdie at the 18th, but made bogey and finished fifth.

"I knew I needed to make it," said Lehman, 46, the 2005 U.S. Ryder Cup team captain. "It was a rugged, rugged day. It wasn't a day for sissies, that's for sure."

The biggest names were not a factor. No. 1-ranked Vijay Singh finished tied for 12th, the best of the Big Four. No. 2. Tiger Woods shot his highest scores of the year (75-75) and had his worst finish on the PGA Tour in six years, a tie for 53rd. No. 3 Ernie Els couldn't overcome a lackluster start in benign conditions, but did shoot 69 in the final round to tie for 17th. No. 4 Phil Mickelson hit two balls in the water at the par-3 17th hole during the third round, finished 75-77 and tied for 40th.

Fifth-ranked Retief Goosen had the best chance and was at 9 under - the eventual winning score - early in the fourth round. But he shot 76 to tie for 12th.

Funk has a tough time ranking among the Big Four of Ponte Vedra Beach residents. Singh lives in the neighborhood, as do former major winners Jim Furyk and David Duval and former Masters runnerup Len Mattiace.

But, Funk, who ranked 80th in the field in driving distance, was tied for first in accuracy, hitting 48 of 56 fairways for the tournament. He was also first in greens in regulation, hitting 58 of 72.

"I knew it was more important to be in the fairway," he said. "I stayed with my game plan. You obviously have to hit the ball well in these windy conditions."

Funk entered the final round four strokes behind Donald, and took a two-shot lead with birdies at the 12th and 13th holes. He immediately gave it back, bogeying the next two holes by three-putting. But Funk two-putted for birdie at the par-5 16th and seemingly had a chance to put the tournament away with birdie at the 17th, where he had a 20-footer. Instead, he three-putted for a bogey.

"I never make anything easy on myself," Funk said.

Funk, cheered by a hometown crowd, ripped a 280-yard drive at the 18th, then made the clutch 5-foot par putt after missing the green.

"I can't comprehend how big this really is for me," he said. "But they can't take it away from me."