Fred Funk last man standing at Players Championship
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2005 The Players Championship | Wrap | 29 Mar 2005
Fred Funk responded, in the best possible manner, to the commonly held belief that power is dominating the modern day game, with a display of controlled and strategic golf to win the Players Championship.
Funk, who ranks among the tailenders in driving distance stats on the USPGA Tour, showed that power hitting on a golf course where the rough was brutal was no real advantage. A lot has been made of late that the longer hitters just stand up and hit it and are not concerned if they find the rough as they will power out if it with a short iron as opposed to the short hitters long irons from the fairway. Here at the TPC at Sawgrass the length and thickness of the rough, brought about by the recent rains, ensured that all who found the rough were equally penalised. Funk, as is typical of him, found more fairways and greens than anyone else during the four rounds and was rewarded by the greatest of his now seven victories and flew the flag for the shorter hitters in the game in doing so.
The week proved to be one of the great endurance tests on the PGA Tour with rounds three and four being carried over until Monday. Strong breezes replaced the incessant rain on day five and the event very much became a case of the last man standing over the final 33 holes played by the leaders on Monday.
Starting early this morning to complete round three, Joe Durant and Luke Donald were ahead but on his return to the course, Donald immediately made birdie at the 4th after a delightful second and took the lead. Even this early in the day the Englishman was looking very solid. His first real mistake came at the 14th when he took double bogey from the middle of the fairway and holed a good putt to do so. He birdied the par five 16th and when he made the quick turnaround to get his final round underway he led by one over Joe Durant and by two over Tim Herron.
Donald opened round four with a bogey and although he regained that shot at the 3rd, he doubled the 4th when he found the water at the par four from the middle of the fairway, a mistake that would prove costly later in the day. But while he was making mistakes so were many others. Durant had an early birdie in round four but then the bogey train arrived and he jumped on. Bogeys at the 3rd, 5th, 12th, 14th and 18th saw his chances disappear.
While those in or near the lead battled, the challenges would come from those just off the pace. Funk was around in a very solid 71 in the morning but the run of four birdies in seven holes in the middle of the final round swept him to the lead. Consecutive three putts at the 14th and 15th led to bogeys but a brilliant second at the par five 16th set up an easy birdie and so now in the lead, he faced the most daunting finish in golf, especially with a lead.
His tee shot at the treacherous 17th was solid but with the flag in its normal Sunday position (even though this was Monday) he ran his first putt by the hole and then missed the next. Three, three putts in four holes and he still had the lead as he teed it up at the last. Now if you wanted anybody to find the fairway in such a situation it would be Funk and he let no-one down with a fine drive. That left him with 170 yards for his second but he pulled it left, into the back left trap. His bunker shot was very good but still left him with five feet for his par and probable victory. With those three putts no doubt in his mind, he was able to still make the putt that would ensure his greatest victory. It was gutsy stuff on one of the more demanding days he and most of the field had faced.
Tom Lehman birdied four of his first six holes in round four to set up a brilliant 68, the best final round of the day, and a big charge to finish in a share of second. He shared that with Scott Verplank whose last hole bogey from the fairway, would, along with his double there in the morning, prove very costly. Luke Donald who recovered late in his round to grab a share of second with Lehman and Verplank.
Joe Durant’s back nine of 39 saw a missed opportunity for him but he was not alone. There would be many ’what if’ stories this day.
Vijay Singh did the best of the big four with his share of 12th and retains the number one spot in the game. Woods, who had a chance to get past him again with a better finish than the Fijian, only just managed to make the cut and he eventually finished 51st.
Reflecting the difficulty of the final day there were 16 rounds of 80 and worse in round four, with first round leader, Steve Jones, the worst of those with 84.
Of the Australians, two time winner here, Steve Elkington, was best when 6th, his best finish since the 2002 British Open on the USPGA Tour. Following his 12th placing at the recent Ford Championship, Elkington appears to be back close to his best once again.
Adam Scott did well defending his title when 8th, but will be disappointed to let an early third round lead slip. John Senden was a rather impressive 22nd, Nick O’Hern equally impressive when 24th, Rod Pampling’s last round 80 saw him slip to 27th, Craig Parry had 81 in round four to finish 40th, Richard Green will be disappointed with his last round 77 to finish 44th but it may still be enough to keep him inside the top fifty in world rankings and get him into the Masters, Mark Hensby was 73rd and Aaron Baddeley 78th.
The USPGA Tour now heads to Duluth near Atlanta for the Bell South Classic with the US Masters just one week away.