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No Funk for Fred at Players |

No Funk for Fred at Players

| Tuesday, March 29, 2005 12:00 a.m

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — There has never been a Players Championship winner older than 48-year-old Fred Funk.

And there couldn’t have been many champions shorter off the tee than Funk, who was ranked 181st in driving distance coming into the week.

But this morning, as Funk sits back with a cup of coffee just five minutes from the TPC at Sawgrass, neither of those things will matter. He gutted out a final-round 71 on a difficult Stadium Course and won the biggest event of his career.

“I just can’t believe I won this thing. I’m overwhelmed. It was so hard out there today,” Funk said. “I knew I was playing good, but didn’t think I would be a position to do this until I went to the back nine. To come at this stage of my career and all of these power guys, well, obviously it’s the biggest win by far for me.”

When Funk starts spending that $1.44 million winner’s check and looks at the distinctive piece of crystal in his trophy case, he’ll remember how hard he had to work to get his seventh career victory on the PGA Tour.

He made birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 and tacked on two more at 12 and 13, getting to 11-under-par and opening up a two-shot lead. But just as quickly, he three-putted on 14 and 15.

But, Funk hit a gutsy shot into the par-5 16th; hitting the ball out over the lake that guards the hole on the right side. He drew the ball perfectly, it hit on the fringe and rolled up to 20 feet. He two-putted from there, knocking in a two-footer for birdie that got him back to 10-under again.

Then, facing the treacherous 17th, Funk had a long wait on the tee as the group ahead struggled. But, he drilled the 7-iron, carrying it to the upper level of the green, leaving him 29 feet to the cup.

What Funk didn’t know was that as he hit his tee shot, Scott Verplank — his closest pursuer — bogeyed No. 18, finishing at 8-under and giving Funk a two-shot lead.

“I fought hard, hit a pretty nice putt on the last hole, and it could have just as easily gone it, but it lipped out,” Verplank said.

Funk ran his putt 6 feet past the hole and he missed coming back, again shrinking that lead to a shot.

He needed to make par on 18 to give himself a chance and even that wasn’t easy. After driving the ball in the middle of the fairway, he pulled his approach shot into a greenside bunker and needed to get up and down from the short side to make par.

A good bunker shot left him a 3-foot putt, similar to the three he missed on the back nine, leading to a trio of three-putts. But he stepped up, drained it and threw his hat to the ground to punctuate the long day.

“I guess that was a culmination of all the emotions that I’d been keeping inside me all day,” Funk said. “I knew it wasn’t over, that a couple guys behind me could have caught me.”

Luke Donald and Joe Durant could have birdied No. 18, but the odds were against them. No one made a birdie there all day. Durant hit his tee shot into the left rough, taking away his chance, and Donald’s putt from just behind the green just missed the hole to the left.

Donald finished in a tie with Verplank and Tom Lehman at 8-under. Lehman turned in the best round of the difficult day, a 4-under 68 that was the envy of many of his competitors.

“It was very difficult to go forward today,” Lehman said. “I was just trying to maintain what I was doing, make a birdie when I can. That was a pretty good score, even though I don’t think I hit it all that well.”

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