Funk, the 2005 Players Championship winner on the PGA TOUR, is playing in only his third event on the Champions Tour after a pair of 11th-place finishes at the U.S. Senior Open and Senior Players Championship. He has primarily honed his craft this year on the PGA TOUR, but comes onto the elder circuit with high expectations.
'It's a big difference for me being the favorite,' said Funk, a seven-time winner on the PGA TOUR. 'I was a favorite in the mid-Atlantic section, but never on the PGA TOUR.'
Funk is one ahead of Scott Simpson, Dan Pohl and R.W. Eaks at Oak Hills Country Club. Mike McCullough, Raymond Floyd, Lonnie Nielsen and Keith Fergus are knotted in fifth place at 4-under-par 67.
Funk parred his first three holes on Friday, then knocked an 8-iron to 15 feet to set up birdie at the fourth. He parred his next three, but collected back-to-back birdies at eight and nine, with the one at eight inside a foot from the hole.
The 50-year-old continued his strong play on the second nine, although he did not capitalize on the par-5 10th. He made par there, but converted a 5-footer for birdie at the 11th.
Funk parred his next three holes, including a clutch save at the short, par-4 14th. He two-putted for birdie at the par-5 15th to join the group at minus-5.
The former Ryder Cupper hit a sand-wedge to 11 feet to set up a birdie at the 17th. That moved Funk into sole possession of the lead at 6 under par and he stayed on top with a par at the last.
'I hit some good putts that didn't go in and I made some good up and downs,' said Funk. 'I tried to be real aggressive with my swing. It was a relaxing day.'
Aside from being in first place in a Champions Tour event, Funk is battling against something else that's new for him. His previous two Champions Tour events were majors, thus 72 holes. This tournament is only 54 and it will take some adjustments from Funk.
'Three rounds is like a sprint,' acknowledged Funk. 'You've got to get going early, force the issue. I'm not used to it yet. I'd love to put myself in position to win on Sunday.'
Loren Roberts, second on the Champions Tour money list, Dick Mast, Tom Purtzer, D.A. Weibring, Mark McNulty, Craig Stadler, Hale Irwin, Walter Hall, James Mason, Hajime Meshiai and Mark James, 31st on the money list, one spot out of making next week's Charles Schwab Cup Championship, are tied for 10th place at 3-under-par 69.
Jay Haas, the defending champion and the money list and Charles Schwab Cup race leader, opened with a 1-under-par 70 and is tied for 33rd place.