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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 3, 2008

Funk seeks 'Aloha' slam

 •  Pro golfer Furyk is at home on Maui
 •  Hawaii's Ishii, McClean in Turtle Bay Championship
 •  Holes in one

By Bill Kwon

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tadd Fujikawa is greeted by Fred Funk on the Plantation Course during the pro-am event of the Mercedes-Benz Championship.

ERIC RISBERG | Associated Press

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When Fred Funk tees it up today in the Mercedes-Benz Championship, he's not only starting his 2008 PGA Tour season, he's beginning a bid to win a Hawai'i grand slam.

The season-opening event at Kapalua's Plantation Course on Maui will be the first of four straight PGA tournaments Funk will play in the 50th State.

Following Mercedes, Funk will play in the Sony Open in Hawai'i next week at the Waialae Country Club in the tour's first full-field event of the year, followed by the first two Champions Tour events of the season the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai on the Big Island and the Turtle Bay Championship on O'ahu's North Shore.

What a way to start the New Year. It's an unprecedented feat that might never be matched with Hualalai and Turtle Bay not locked as tournament sites beyond 2008.

Craig Stadler, who also won on both tours to be eligible for the winners-only Mercedes and MasterCard events, had the same opportunity in 2004, but skipped Turtle Bay after playing in the first three.

Funk played three events on the "Aloha Tour" last year but didn't win in 2006 to get into Mercedes. He wasn't about to pass up his chance.

"Playing all four was a goal of mine if I won on both tours," said Funk, who qualified this time by winning the inaugural Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico, a month after a record 11-stroke victory for a 54-hole Champions Tour event at Turtle Bay.

"It was my goal in 2006, in 2007 and will be my goal in 2008," he said. "That's always going to be my goal if I'm still playing on both tours."

So will he? Why not, with the success he has had double-dipping on both tours in 2007.

Funk, 51, earned $1.23 million in playing 22 events on the regular tour and $997,964 in 10 tournaments with his senior peers.

"I started the year great but had to withdraw from a couple of events because my back went out," said Funk. It did during the third round in Mexico, but he hung on to win, thereby punching his ticket to Kapalua. But he withdrew from his next two tournaments to let his back heal.

Funk plans to play in 17 events on the regular tour and 12 senior events this year.

"I'll focus on the regular tour if I have a shot at making the Ryder Cup. Obviously, that's what I've got to do if I get off to a good start," said Funk, who arrived last week to begin more than a month's stay in the islands.

"It's a good way to get the year started," Funk said. "That's the nice thing about winning. Both Mercedes and MasterCard are great inter-active weeks. They're a nice reward. And what's better is that in three of the four tournaments, there's no cut. I like that."

Success came late for Funk, who coached his alma mater's University of Maryland men's golf team for eight years before becoming a PGA Tour rookie in 1989.

"When I first got out of college I wasn't good enough for the tour," Funk said. Soon he got on a roll, shooting in the 60s and beating his recruits.

"It was nothing magical overnight. It's a matter of having a proper level of comfort and skill. I was able to rise up to each level. I used to say, kiddingly, that I never recruited a player better than I was. It was a running joke. (But) I tried to lead by example."

Funk regrets that Tiger Woods isn't playing in the PGA Tour's season opener.

"To me, I wish it were mandatory to play in the top events, which the Mercedes is. It's a tournament of champions. You want your top two, three recognized guys there."

He can understand why Tiger and Phil Mickelson don't care to battle Hawai'i's trade winds.

"You're always trying to figure a way to swing and not to let the wind affect the shot. Because of the wind you never seem to hit a vanilla shot. It's always spumoni. I think that's why Phil doesn't play here. He's said so in words to that effect. (But) I know you can't force anyone to play. We're like independent contractors."

As for the four courses at which he'll be playing, Funk likes them all for varying reasons:

  • Kapalua Plantation: "I think (Ben) Crenshaw did a great job considering how severe the land he had to work with. It's a tough golf course. It has a lot of diverse conditions and the wind blows there a lot. And it can be raining and it can be pouring. I've had difficulty with the greens in the past, but I've played well there. It's a big hitter's course, but if I'm playing well, I can make up for it."

  • Waialae: "It's a fabulous golf course. One of the best re-do courses I've seen, not only by changing the four par-5s to two and making it par 70. You have to really control your golf shots. You've got to hit a lot of good shots and be in the right position every time. It's very scoreable if you can control your driver to avoid the many doglegs and rough.

    "I love Waialae. I've played well there," added Funk, who has had three top-10 finishes there and is playing in his 10th straight Sony Open. "The only downside is the practice facility. It's small and downwind. Guys use it just as exercise to get ready."

  • Hualalai: "Also fabulous. It's the best resort course I've seen."

  • Turtle Bay's Palmer Course: Obviously, the greens, according to Funk, who averaged 25.3 putts a round in shooting a tournament-record, 23-under-par 193. "Probably my best three days of putting I've ever had. I came off a horrible week of putting at Hualalai. I told myself it's not going to do. So I made a change in my set-up, widening my stance. All of a sudden I was all over the hole."

    Now, Funk's all over the 50th State.

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