Fred Funk celebrates after sinking a putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Players Championship, Monday, March 28, 2005, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
AP Photo/Phil Coale
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. In the toughest round ever on the TPC at Sawgrass, Fred Funk found himself tied for the lead in The Players Championship as he stood in the 16th fairway.
He had 234 yards to a green partially surrounded by water. A glance to the right revealed an even scarier sight the island-green 17th hole, buffeted by 35 mph gusts.
At age 48, Funk knew he was running out of time.
''I just felt like, 'How many chances do I have to win?' I was letting The Players Championship go, and I didn't want to let it go,'' Funk said. ''I wanted to be aggressive and try to win thing.''
He hit 3-iron into 20 feet for birdie, then atoned for some putting lapses down the stretch Monday by saving par from a bunker with a 5-footer on the 18th hole to become the oldest winner at The Players Championship.
''It's the biggest win by far that I've ever had,'' Funk said. ''This is the strongest field that we play all year long. It's a really hard golf course. I hung in there, barely. But it's an awful good feeling.''
Funk closed with a 1-under 71 in a final round where the average score was 76.512, the highest in the history of this event.
It wasn't over until Luke Donald of England hit a 4-iron just over the back of the 18th green, then saw his 20-foot birdie putt stay just left of the cup for a 76.
Earlier, Scott Verplank slung his putter in disbelief when his 10-foot par putt on the 18th lipped out for a 70.
''I did everything I was supposed to do,'' Verplank said. ''It just didn't go in.''
They finished one shot behind, along with Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, whose 68 was the best score of a brutal final round.
Funk had reason to believe he didn't belong.
As he walked off the fifth tee just before the third and final rain delay Sunday, he shook his head and said with a smile, ''I feel like a Volkswagen, like Herbie the Love Bug, in a field of Ferraris,'' alluding to his lack of power.
But he kept it between the lines, and had just enough gas at the end.
Funk finished at 9-under 279, the highest winning score on tour this year, and won $1.44 million from the richest purse of the year.
And he had the kind of trophy missing from his credentials.
Funk had won six times since leaving a gig as Maryland's golf coach to join the PGA Tour in 1988, but none distinguished themselves. Two were opposite-field events. Two others are no longer on the schedule.
He mentioned Kenny Perry winning at Bay Hill and the Memorial, or Lee Janzen with his two U.S. Opens.
''Those are the ones you remember,'' he said. ''They have a little prestige to them. Obviously, any major would fall into that category, but there are certain tournaments that hold higher value out there, and I didn't have any of those.
''Now, I've got one.''
It wasn't easy.
The wind was the strongest since the tournament moved to the Stadium Course at Sawgrass in 1982. It nearly blew flagsticks out of the hole, swept sand from the bunker and caused limbs to drop like leaves.
Funk made it harder with three-putt bogeys on consecutive holes to lose a two-shot lead. And after the bold 3-iron on the 16th for birdie, and hitting the island-green par 3 with a towering 7-iron that wasn't safe until it landed, he lost his cushion with yet another three-putt bogey.
But he made the only shot that mattered a 5-foot par putt that was never in doubt.
''Yes!'' Funk screamed out as the putt disappeared, giving a quick thrust of his fist and slamming his cap to the ground.
It ended a memorable week at Sawgrass, the seventh Monday finish in the 32-year history, which started and ended in sunshine but featured three days of rain in between that set up a marathon final day.
Funk went 32 holes on Monday in conditions so difficult that 16 players failed to break 80.
''When you have to play that many holes in these tough conditions on a golf course that messes with your head ... it's definitely going to wear you down,'' Verplank said.
As for the Big Four? None finished in the top 10.
Vijay Singh was within four shots of the lead until he three-putted from 8 feet for a double bogey on No. 15. He closed with a 72 and tied for 12th, enough to retain his No. 1 ranking by finishing ahead of Tiger Woods.
Woods tied for 53rd by shooting a 75. Phil Mickelson dropped out of contention with two balls into the water on the 17th in morning, and another one in the afternoon. He shot 75 and tied for 40th. Ernie Els started his day with a double bogey and a triple bogey, but closed with a 69 to tie for 17th.
Defending champion Adam Scott had a 73 to tie for eighth, four shots behind.
Already bizarre because of the rain, The Players Championship got downright wicked in sunshine. The most fearsome element of all is the wind, and that showed up with a vengeance Monday morning.
As expected, some players paid dearly.
Bob Tway was only four shots out of the lead late in the third round when he dumped four ball into the water on the island-green 17th and took a 12, the highest score ever on the infamous par 3. Two of those shots from the drop area landed on the front of the green and spun off.
Lee Westwood was only three shots out of the lead until playing his final five holes of the third round in 8 over par, including a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 17th.
Donald recovered from a double bogey on the 14th to take a one-shot lead into the final round. He had only 15 minutes to grab lunch, and his lead was gone even quicker than that.
The lead changed four times in the first four holes, and everyone else strapped in and tried to survive. After five days, The Players Championship finally resembled a major.
Funk needed even longer to show that he is a big-time player.
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