-- Fred Funk has made his living for 21 years on the PGA Tour as a short hitter among an ever-growing sea of bombers. Never sniffing the leaders in driving distance, Funk instead has collected close to $13 million in career earnings with one simple mantra: Keep the ball in the fairway.
That proved no small feat in the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday at Shinnecock Hills, where after two days of conditions ripe for scoring, the links-style course bit back.
"It's like Daytona with a bunch of oil all over it," said Funk, who mostly was up to the task, including briefly taking the lead at 5 under before surrendering three shots over the final four holes. The former University of Maryland golf coach wound up tied for fourth, three shots off the lead and chasing some of the game's longest hitters heading into the final round.
"This one is definitely where it's a [U.S.] Open venue, where anybody can play well if you're keeping the ball in play," said Funk, who has ranked first on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy seven of the past 10 years. "It's not that big a factor on length. Here and there it is. There's no substitute for having length. But I know I can score on this thing."
Funk did so early with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5, then took the lead briefly on the back nine with birdies on 11 and 12.
"I saw I was leading," he said. "I actually said to [caddie Mark Long], 'Hey, isn't this cool? I'm leading the U.S. Open right here.' He says, 'Hey, it doesn't mean anything until tomorrow.' I said, 'I know, but it's still pretty cool.' "
That stint of good feeling gave way to frustration with bogeys on 14, 16 and 18, and Funk finished with a 2-over 72. It was his first round of the tournament over par after an opening 70 and a 66 on Friday that included a memorable sand-wedge birdie from the bunker at the par-3 second hole.
"My sand game has been unbelievable this week," Funk said.
So has his ascension on the leader board after missing the cut in consecutive events before the U.S. Open. Over the past eight events, Funk has missed the cut five times and mostly was a forgotten name among those forecasted to win America's national championship.
"I'm still struggling with my ball striking a little bit," Funk said. "I've been working unbelievably hard. I haven't hit so many balls as I have the last six weeks. This is my seventh week in a row on the road. I've been working really hard and trying to see signs."
At 48 -- his birthday was Monday -- Funk is fast running out of time to win his first major championship, and history will not be on his side Sunday. In the 104 years of the U.S. Open, nine times has a player in his forties won the event. The oldest player to win was Hale Irwin, at 45 years 15 days, in 1990 at Medinah.
Funk has not been in such a fine position to win the U.S. Open since 1993, when he finished the third round in sixth place. He shot a 2-under 70 in the final round, but it was good enough only for seventh. That tournament at Baltusrol was also the only time in Funk's 15 U.S. Open starts that he finished below par.
"Yeah, it's fun to get back in contention," he said. "Hopefully, I can keep this going and have a lot of fun on Sunday and make a run at this thing."