Funk Tiger Still Not Invincible

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- One of Tiger Woods' golfing buddies says the Masters champion is no longer dominant on the tour, and doesn't expect Woods to go on a title run similar to the one that included seven majors between 1999 and 2002.
 
Fred Funk, who is good friends with Woods and knows the magic his pal carries in his golf bag, says he didn't sense the same invincibility when Woods won his fourth Masters this past Sunday.
 
Fred Funk
Fred Funk's tie for sixth last year was his best finish at the MCI Heritage.
'I don't see Tiger dominating like he did, I really don't,' Funk said Wednesday as he prepared for the start of the MCI Heritage.
 
Funk and the rest of the tour remember all too well the days when Woods would grab the lead at a major and then relentlessly pull away as the field scrambled for second. Many times Woods left with a title and the feeling he couldn't be beaten.
 
Those days are gone, some of his peers say.
 
'I think the gap is smaller than it was when he had that wonderful stretch,' Jose Maria Olazabal said.
 
Golfers 'aren't scared of him anymore,' Funk said.
 
Count Funk among them. He outlasted Woods and the rest of golf's Big Four -- Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson -- to win The Players Championship three weeks ago.
 
'It was a defining win, no question. By far the biggest one I've had,' Funk said. 'It's pretty neat to be called the players' champion. I heard that last week at Augusta.'
 
Funk also heard the familiar cheers for Woods among the Georgia pines. Woods had taken a three-stroke lead over Chris DiMarco after three rounds. The scene was set for another runaway.
 
'I think Tiger and probably everybody else in the world thought he was going to win by seven (shots) or more,' Funk said.
 
Instead, Funk watched Woods struggle down the stretch and barely hold on for a playoff. The iron to the back of the 16th green -- saved by Woods' chip-in birdie for the ages -- was followed by a blocked tee shot on No. 17 and a poor approach right of the 18th green. The later two mistakes led to bogeys and dropped him into a playoff with DiMarco.
 
'Those are three shots in a row that weren't typical Tiger when he's on his game,' Funk said.
 
Funk said Woods showed his grit on the playoff hole with two remarkable shots and a solid birdie putt to win.
 
'But I just don't think Tiger is in total control of his game like he was before, even though he says he's close all the time,' Funk said.
 
Even if Woods' game was the same as before, there are too many talented rivals right on his heels now.
 
'It's going to be difficult for him,' said Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999. 'I think he raised the level. He raised the bar.'
 
Now, Olazabal and Funk say, several of those chasing players have met Woods' challenge.
 
Mickelson has three PGA Tour victories this year, the same as Woods, and battled his rival through the Ford Championship at Doral last month. Singh had overtaken Woods as the world's top-ranked golfer before surrendering that at the Masters.
 
'Vijay has played unbelievably great golf, ridiculous golf, the last two years,' Funk said. 'And Ernie (Els) and Retief (Goosen) and I think guys like Adam Scott are going to show up there at the top really quick.'
 
Not here, they won't.
 
The week after the Masters has become a big week off for most of golf's biggest names. None of the Big Four is here. Neither is DiMarco.
 
'Somebody asked me who's the favorite this week, and I said I couldn't come up with 10 but I could come up with 100,' said Jay Haas, playing his 29th MCI Heritage. 'There are so many guys capable of getting hot.'
 
That's precisely why few here think Woods' latest triumph might mean a tournament rush as in the past.
 
'I think he would have won by two, three or four (shots) years ago,' Haas said. 'He wouldn't have been close. There wouldn't have been a playoff.'

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