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For Funk, It's Quite a Windfall At TPC

40-mph Gusts Can't Keep Him From Title

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page D02

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., March 28 -- Washington area native Fred Funk earned the grandest victory of his career Monday. He earned it by surviving 40-mph wind gusts in a Players Championship already extended one day by fog, rain, thunder and lightning. He earned it by surviving three three-putt bogeys on the back nine while the winds whipping off the Atlantic wreaked havoc with players' psyches, swings and scorecards.

Funk, who began the round four shots off the lead at the TPC at Sawgrass course, posted a 71, which was 5 1/2 shots better than the final round scoring average for the field, and ended with a 9-under 279. Though he pumped his fist high in the air, then spiked his cap on the green when his last putt was holed, he couldn't truly celebrate until Englishman Luke Donald, playing in the last threesome, missed by an inch on a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe that could have tied Funk and forced a playoff in the richest tournament on the PGA Tour.

Fred Funk hits out of a sand trap to within 5 feet on 18. "I never thought I'd be holding this trophy. I kind of tried to give it away," he said afterward. (Stephen Morton -- AP)

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Donald was the leader at 12 under when the mostly washed-out third round was completed Monday morning. But his final-round 76 left him in a tie for second place at 8-under 280 with Scott Verplank (70) and Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who had the best final round of the day, a 68 posted about an hour before Funk finished.

"I'm overwhelmed," an emotionally drained Funk, 48 and the oldest winner of this event, told the crowd during the trophy presentation. "I never thought I'd be holding this trophy. I kind of tried to give it away. I was thinking the whole way down the back nine while I was three-putting all around, 'You never do anything the easy way.' "

Funk's popular victory in his adopted home town was the seventh of his career on the PGA Tour, and easily was the most important. His winner's share from the $8 million purse was $1.44 million, but even more significant it was the best validation yet of his considerable skills honed first in the Washington suburbs as a youngster growing up in Prince George's County, then later as a coach and teaching professional who didn't start playing on the PGA Tour until his early thirties.

"I never claimed I was a great player," said Funk, one of the shortest but most accurate drivers on tour. "But I knew I was a good player and under the right conditions, I could compete with anyone. But I never felt like I had to prove anything."

Funk had plenty of help this week. On Saturday during one delay, his caddie, Mark Long, had to call him at his house about five minutes from the course to wake him from a nap and tell him play was resuming in less than 45 minutes. Funk was in pajamas, but he quickly pulled on his clothes and hustled back to hit about 15 balls on the practice range before his tee time.

Late Monday afternoon, Long said he simply tried to keep Funk focused as best he could, especially after a disastrous three-putt bogey from 25 feet at the treacherous 142-yard, island green 17th left him only a one-shot cushion going to the 18th tee. Funk striped his drive down the left center of the final fairway on a hole not a single player birdied in the final round. But his second shot, a 6-iron, 170 yards from the flag, was hit off the toe of his club and, Funk said, he feared it was going in the water down the left side.

Instead, it splashed in sand and came to rest in a somewhat dicey lie with wet sand behind his ball. He managed to blast it just over the edge of the green to within five feet of the hole.

"Before the putt, I thought about whether to tell him he had to make it for a playoff just to get his mind off what had happened at 17," Long said. "But I decided not to. It was a dead flat putt, and we both had the same read on it. All I said was, 'Just make it,' and there was never any doubt that was going in."

Funk said the putt "had no movement at all to it, and all I really wanted to do was trust that I could put a good stroke on it. If it didn't go in, it didn't go in. I have done this an awful lot of times and I tried to minimize the importance of the putt. I pulled it just a hair, but it was left-center, and it stayed there."

Funk was not the only player suffering with bogeys, or far worse, in these conditions. Pity poor Bob Tway, who hit four shots in the water at the 17th hole during the completion of the morning third round, then three-putted for a 12 on his way to an 80. Tway went from being tied for 10th place, four off the lead, to a tie for 72nd place, also earning an ignominious spot in the record book for most strokes ever expended at that diabolical hole.

Phil Mickelson, also 7 under at the time, made quadruple-bogey 7 at 17 with two in the water in his third-round 77, his worst score of the season, then put another ball in the water in the fourth round for a double bogey on the way to 75 and 2-over 290. Tiger Woods also struggled, posting a pair of 75s Monday to go 5-over 293 and a tie for 53rd, his worst finish since the 1999 season and just two weeks before he'll try to win his fourth Masters.

For Funk, the Players was the "the biggest win by far I've ever had, against the strongest field and on an extremely hard golf course. To be on top, I know I was playing good, but I didn't know I was in position to win until the back nine, when I hung on, barely. To come at this stage in my career, against all these power guys, I felt kind of like Herbie, the Volkswagen, the Love Bug. I'm out there hitting my little pea-shooters, and all the bombers are going 40 yards by me.

"As strong as this tour is now top to bottom, I can't comprehend how big this really is for me. They can't ever take this away from me, and I'll always cherish this."

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