Happy 51st Funk Solid on his Birthday

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2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Fred Funk, old enough to be a grandfather, doesn't mind being known as a golfer who prefers to keep it short and simple. At the U.S. Open, that supposed negative might be a big positive.
 
Funk celebrated his 51st birthday Thursday with a 1-over 71 at the U.S. Open, not good enough for the lead but the same score as Tiger Woods -- 20 years his junior and nearly as big a favorite as Funk is an underdog.
 
He played much younger than that at Oakmont, relying on an unusually hot putter, his seasoned instincts and an always-reliable driver -- he has been the PGA Tour's most accurate driver seven times -- for a steady round that left him three shots behind leader Nick Dougherty.
 
'Old course, old guy, good play,' Funk said.
 
Funk is an anomaly in golf -- old enough to play on the Champions Tour, a two-time winner there already, but still good enough to compete on the PGA Tour, where he became the oldest winner since 1975 earlier this year.
 
He plans on staying with the big boys until his game doesn't allow it, and he won the PGA Mayakoba Classic in March only a month after taking the Champions' Turtle Bay championship by a record 11 shots.
 
Despite winning the Players Championship two years ago, giving him a Tour exemption until 2010, he played his way into the U.S. Open via a qualifier.
 
'No, I'm not surprised,' Funk said of sneaking onto a leaderboard where many of the big names were way down the list. 'If I'm playing well, I know how good I can play. I'm more enthusiastic, more excited about my back being a little bit better because it's been a struggle since March, and last week was the first week I swung without any pain.'
 
Funk showed on No. 9 how experience can be an asset.
 
A trucker on the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike blew his air horn in the middle of Funk's backswing on his tee shot -- startling him, but not enough to result in a terrible drive, though he did bogey the hole.
 
'I definitely flinched, but I ended up with a good drive,' Funk said. 'I was surprised how far it got out there -- obviously, it rolled a ton. That was a unique thing you've got to deal with here at the Open. You don't have too many courses with turnpikes running through the middle of them.'
 
Or too many tournaments where someone as old as Funk plays better than those 25 years younger.
 
Oakmont has two holes that are 600 yards-plus but, with the fairways so tight, Funk's accuracy kept him out of the trouble the longer hitters often find. Wary of getting into the deep rough at No. 12, which was playing 667 yards, he used a 3-wood despite his acknowledged lack of length off the tee.
 
Remember, Funk once donned a skirt during the Skins Game after being outdriven by Annika Sorenstam.
 
Funk, a former University of Maryland coach, came back from that bogey on No. 9 for a birdie on No. 10, dropping a putt 'that's either going to go in the hole or off the green.' He had two more birdies on the back nine, rolling in a 60-footer, by his estimate, on No. 15 and a 30-footer on No. 17.
 
Funk, an eight-time winner despite not going out onto the PGA Tour until he was 31, was surprised more in the field didn't drop similar putts, given how scoring conditions appeared to be better following a Wednesday thunderstorm that slightly slowed Oakmont's slick greens.
 
Funk didn't expect scores like the 62 he had in Mexico this year, but he also didn't anticipate seeing so many 76s and 77s.
 
'I thought some guys would get out there and get it today, because it was a lot different than when I was putting before the rain,' he said. 'It's a tough golf course, it keeps coming at you and you make a little mistake and it can turn into bad mistake.'
 
How Funk plays the final three rounds may be determined by how few of those big mistakes he makes -- his small game, he hopes, will limit that.
 
'I think par doesn't know an age if you're playing well,' Funk said.
 
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