Funk Dominates Skins Game

By Associated PressNovember 27, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Merrill Lynch Skins GameLA QUINTA, Calif. -- What a Skins Game it was for Fred Funk, who went from wearing a pink skirt on the third hole to walking away with nearly all the money.
 
'Wow,' Funk said in disbelief Sunday on the 18th green, where he'd just won the final $550,000 and six skins, for a total of $925,000 and 15 skins in his first try.
 
Funk had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th, then clinched the record-setting victory when Tiger Woods missed an 8-foot birdie putt.
 
Fred Couples
Fred Couples, the two-time reigning Skins Game champ, was completely shut out in the 2005 edition.
The 49-year-old Funk became the oldest Skins Game winner, and took all $700,000 available on Sunday.
 
'I'm still in shock that I got asked to be in this thing,' said Funk, who was invited to his first Skins Game after winning the Players Championship in March. 'I've always watched it on TV and was shocked to be part of it. It's something that I didn't even dream of, actually. First of all, I didn't dream that I'd win the Players Championship.'
 
Before the made-for-TV tournament, Woods told Funk he'd never live it down if Annika Sorenstam outdrove him on even one hole. It happened on the third hole Saturday, and Funk good-naturedly pulled a pink skirt over his pants and finished the hole.
 
But Woods might not want to underestimate the short-but-accurate Funk anymore.
 
'It started off with some nice birdies at first, and after that Funky just took over,' Woods said.
 
Coincidentally, Funk won $775,000 and 12 skins on two par-5s. The $925,000 and 15 skins were records for a rookie.
 
Almost as surprising as Funk winning practically the entire purse was Fred Couples, the King of Skins, getting shut out for the first time in 12 appearances.
 
'Getting nothing is not the end of the world,' said Couples, who still holds the Skins Game career records with $3,515,000 and 77 skins. 'I've gotten my share. So I'm tickled pink just to be here.'
 
Woods won the other $75,000, on the third hole on Saturday. Sorenstam was shut out for the second straight year.
 
'This course is long for me to start with, and you put some wind and some firm greens, it made it really tough for me to get it close,' said Sorenstam, the LPGA star playing in her third straight Skins Game. 'It's an honor simply to come here. This is a great experience for me.'
 
With more than half the purse up for grabs on the final hole, Funk played it brilliantly. As usual, his drive was in the middle of the fairway on the 524-yard, par-5 finishing hole, although Woods and Couples had more distance. Funk's approach shot left him with a 30-foot eagle putt, which curled just to the left, leaving him a tap-in for birdie.
 
'Obviously I'm not a power hitter at all,' said Funk, who hit a 284-yard drive and a 3-wood from 241 yards.
 
'I wasn't sure, into the wind, that I could get home, but I hit a really good drive and a really good 3-wood to get it up there,' he said. 'I didn't think birdie would win it, but you just never know in the Skins.
 
'Again, timing's everything,' Funk said. 'It was very difficult to make putts. You saw a lot of putts go right up to the hole and break off. Freddie and Tiger hit a bunch like that. It's just difficult trying to read these things and you don't know where they go.'
 
Woods needed to make his birdie putt to halve the hole and force a playoff. He missed just left.
 
Funk also won $150,000 and three skins with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 12th, the day's third hole.
 
The previous oldest Skins Game champion was Gary Player, who was 48 when he won it in 1983.
 
Funk won the most money in one year and won the biggest hole in a regular Skins Game -- not including the 2001 event that was played under a validation format. Greg Norman won $800,000 on one hole in that 2001 event, and $1 million overall.
 
Woods and Couples both had chances to reel in Funk, who won $225,000 and six skins on Saturday.
 
Woods had a sensational approach shot out of the right rough on the par-5 16th and could have won $280,000 and four skins, but his 25-foot eagle putt stopped about 4 inches short of the cup.
 
'Don't do that, don't,' Woods said before covering his face.
 
'Nice lag,' Sorenstam told him.
 
'I've got a pretty pink skirt for you,' Funk said to Woods.
 
On the par-3 17th, which was worth $350,000 and five skins, Funk hit into the water and Woods and Couples both missed long birdie putts. Sorenstam made a par putt, forcing Woods and Couples to do the same to halve the hole and carry the money over to the 18th.
 
The Skins Game is sponsored by Merrill Lynch.
 
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.