Fred Finally Out of His Funk

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04 Booz Allen ClassicFred Funk pumps his arms high above his head; he runs around and hi-fives fans; he plays practice rounds with his son Taylor by his side.
 
Hes 48 years old and coming off two of the best seasons ever in his 16 years on the PGA Tour.
 
FUN is not just part of Funks name; its what he exudes on the golf course -- at least when he's playing well.
 
But up until last week, Funk had not been playing well in 2004, and things had not been fun.
 
Two years ago, Funk finished 13th on the money list with four runner-up finishes. His year was highlighted by an inspirational run at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, where he rode an emotional tidal wave, fueled by fan support, to a tie for fourth ' his best-ever finish in a major.
 
He earned over $2 million for the second straight season, in 2003, and had nine top-10s, including a tie for second in the FBR Capital Open, which will be contested this week as the Booz Allen Classic.
 
But instead of carrying all that momentum over into 2004, and finally breaking through with his first tour title since 1998, Funk has gone backwards a little bit, as he said last week at Shinnecock Hills.
 
Funk entered the U.S. Open with seven missed cuts in 16 starts and only two top-10s.
 
Ive been a little disappointed, after coming off such a good year last year and the year before. I had such high expectations; maybe thats what did it. I had big goals, and I havent played to that level yet, Funk said.
 
While much has been made of Ernie Els six-week tournament stretch that culminated at the Open, Funk will be playing his eighth straight event this week at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel in Potomac, Md.
 
Im struggling with my ball-striking a little bit. Ive been working unbelievably hard ' I havent hit so many balls as I have the last six weeks, Funk said after the second round at Shinnecock.
 
That statement is astounding, because ball-striking is Funks forte. But hes not talking about his driving. Funk still leads the tour in driving accuracy ' a statistical category he has topped six of the last nine seasons.
 
Its his iron play that has befuddled him.
 
During the same nine-year span in which he has six times led the tour in finding fairways, he has never been lower than 57th on tour in greens hit in regulation.
 
This year, however, he is 122nd (he was 103rd prior to the U.S. Open). Despite hitting 78.8 percent of his fairways, hes hitting on 62.7 percent of his greens in regulation.
 
Its a struggle. The game is usually not this hard for me. Its become harder the last six or seven weeks, he said.
 
I was even having trouble hitting good shots on the range. I practiced for three or four hours walking away feeling like I didnt accomplish anything, and last week (at the Buick Classic) it came around a little bit.
 
Funk missed the cut by a stroke at Westchester Country Club, but was pleased with his play. He then opened in 70-66 at the U.S. Open to get within two strokes of the half-way lead. He led the championship on the back nine on Saturday, before settling three strokes off the 54-hole pace.
 
Like most everyone, he struggled Sunday, shooting 77 to finish alone in sixth.
 
With his game, perhaps, out of its funk, Funk heads to an area where he is very comfortable. The University of Maryland graduate was the head golf coach at his alma mater from 1982 to 1988. He made it through the qualifying tournament in 88 and played the tour full time in 89. He finished his first full season on tour 157th on the money list and went back to Q-School, where he again graduated.
 
He hasnt since been back.
 
Funk has finished no worse than 91st in earnings since 89, and has collected five victories.
 
He has played this event, which was known as the Kemper Open from its inception in 1968 to 2002, 18 times. He has seven missed cuts, but also a pair of top-3 finishes, including last years runner-up.
 
Funk finished tied for second along with Joe Durant and Duffy Waldorf; four shots behind winner Rory Sabbatini.
 
Sabbatini picked up his second career tour win by holding onto the 36- and 54-hole lead. The event was contested the week before the U.S. Open last year.
 
He nearly earned win No. 3 two weeks ago, when he and Padraig Harrington lost in a three-way playoff to Sergio Garcia at the Buick Classic.
 
Sabbatini, who is trying to become the first player since Craig Stadler in 1982 to repeat as champion, is one of 11 past winners in the field; a list that includes major winners Rich Beem (1999), Justin Leonard (1997), Lee Janzen (1995) and Mark Brooks (1994).
 
The tournament will move to a major venue next season, when it is played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., site of the 1997 U.S. Open. It will be played the week before the 2005 U.S. Open, which will be played in Pinehurst, N.C.
 
The TPC at Avenel has hosted the tournament each of the last 17 years. Congressional was the host the seven years before that, from 1980-86.
 
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