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Crowd enjoying Funk's run

8/18/2002

CHASKA, Minn. -- Fred Funk had already tossed a ball to a
little girl, exchanged high-fives with fans and done enough dancing
on the greens to make the crowd a bit funky itself.

Now, walking up the 16th fairway Saturday, Funk was
contemplating a Tiger Woods-like fist pump to bring down the
curtain on the best act the PGA Championship has seen this week.

The stage was set. On the green ahead, Woods was pumping away
after sinking a crucial par putt.

Funk was watching closely and taking notes.

''I told my caddie if I make the putt I'll do the exact same
thing Tiger did,'' Funk said. ''I'll do a little Mini-me pump.''

Unfortunately for golf, Funk missed his 15-footer and the moment
passed.

He'll have some more on Sunday, though, when the 46-year-old
enjoying the tournament of his life is paired with Woods in the
final round of the PGA Championship.

''It must be a little Funk-fest out here or something,'' Funk
said. ''They've got a little Funk fever going.''

The appreciative crowd did, indeed, watching the animated Funk
play his way around Hazeltine National Golf Club. It wasn't just a
coincidence that Funk's hot play coincided with his recent
determination to allow himself to have fun on the course.

Playing with a stone-faced Retief Goosen and an equally
nondescript Pierre Fulke, Funk shared a virtual love-in with the
fans from the time he went out to complete his third round until he
finished a long day with a 73 that left him four shots behind
Justin Leonard.

Funk followed Woods around the course, but it seemed the crowd
was more eager to see him play than the famous player in front of
him.

''Keep smiling, Freddie,'' they yelled. ''C'mon, Freddie.''

Funk didn't have that much to smile about early, but that didn't
stop him from giving high-fives, talking with fans and kissing his
ball before giving it to a little girl after a chip-in.

The crowd responded with a standing ovation as he walked onto
the green and shouts of encouragement for their new favorite.

''They kind of adopted me out there,'' Funk said. ''I guess they
really appreciate a pro having some fun out here instead of being
straight-faced.''

A five-time winner who quit his job as golf coach at the
University of Maryland to play his way on tour, Funk always had a
reputation among his friends and family as someone who liked to
have fun.

At The Players Championship every year, two dozen of his friends
show up in bright pink shirts with ''Funk's Punks'' on them to
follow him around.

But it wasn't until this week -- drawing strength from an older
brother who finally sought help recently for a drinking problem --
that Funk thought of entertaining an entire crowd.

His brother, wife and mother all encouraged him to be himself
and let his hair down. While doing so, he is playing the golf of
his career.

''There's just no reason to be all glum on the golf course when
you see somebody so close to you have the strength to do what he's
done, turning things around,'' Funk said. ''I'm pretty good-natured
in general and, when I let myself be that way, it's usually when I
do play well.''

That showed in the second round Friday when Funk burst into the
lead with a string of birdies and electrified the crowd that
couldn't miss what a good time he was having.

It didn't start all that well Saturday, though, when Funk had to
get up early and wait for two hours while water was pumped off the
course to finish his storm-delayed second round.

He began on the 14th hole with a one-shot lead and promptly made
bogey. By the time the round was over, he was in a five-way tie for
the lead.

Then, disaster nearly struck on the first tee in the first
round. Funk, who doesn't hit the ball long but is usually very
straight, not only found the sand in a fairway bunker, but water
too.

After a drop in the bunker, he barely got the next shot out and
ended up having to make an eight-footer to salvage bogey.

''It was the only fairway I missed and really probably deserved
to make a double,'' Funk said. ''That settled me down, actually,
when I made that bogey putt.''

Funk would go on to play the next 17 holes even par, not enough
to keep the lead, but well enough to get into the second-to-last
group. He'll play with Woods, have some more fun and, hopefully,
have a chance to win a major championship he never thought he'd
get.

''That would be unbelievable,'' Funk said. ''I still kind of
pinch myself to what I've done in my career already, not that it's
anything great. It would be an incredible thing. I wouldn't need to
do anything else.''

And Funk Fever would be breaking out in Minnesota.