Thursday, July 31

Crowd enjoying Funk's run


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.

Fred Funk
Fred Funk throws up his arms -- and his club -- in celebration after holing this chip on No. 7 Saturday morning.

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.










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