Funk Looking For More On PGA Tour

Thursday, March 1st 2007, 6:21 am

By: News On 6

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) _ Back pain didn't stop Fred Funk last week, and he hopes it doesn't keep him from the Honda Classic, either.

The 50-year-old needed an in-round visit from a therapist last week on the way to winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. He's been seeing specialists over the past few days because of pain so bad he's had trouble getting into bed _ a bad sign for someone set to play the 7,048-yard, daunting PGA National spread.

But Funk is here, got through a practice round Wednesday and, barring more trouble, was set to be part of a marquee threesome featuring Davis Love III and David Toms when the Honda began Thursday.

``If it bothers me like last week, I'm going home,'' Funk said. ``It's just too long a golf course to be waving at it. ... This golf course is set up like a U.S. Open and fighting my back, there's just no way I could compete.''

There was little correlation between his pain and his prize last week.

He beat Jose Coceres on the second playoff hole a week ago, capping a week where he set course records one day, then needed on-course massages from his wife just to get through some holes later in the week. The win made Funk just the second player to win on the PGA Tour after prevailing on the Champions Tour, plus pushed his career earnings past $20 million.

And he's a rarity in another sense this week: Funk has actually played a pro event at PGA National.

He was in the 1987 PGA Championship on this course, which is beginning a six-year run as the new host of the Honda. Funk actually led that tournament briefly in the second round as a club professional before finishing tied for 47th and taking home the whopping sum of $2,400.

This week, Funk, world No. 2 Jim Furyk, defending champion Luke Donald and the rest of the field are vying for a $990,000 first prize.

``At Mirasol, the challenge was around the greens. Here, the challenge is off the tee,'' Donald said. ``You have to drive it very well. The fairways are more narrow than Mirasol, but the greens are much flatter and I'm sure they will get firmer as the week goes on.''

Funk's return to PGA National, which Jack Nicklaus redesigned three years after that PGA, got off to an ominous start. He lost his tee ball in the rough on his first practice hole, and said he ``barely'' found his tee shot on the second hole.

``The rough is really high,'' Funk said. ``I didn't really expect it to be quite as narrow. I mean, it's really set up tough out there, I think. We'll see how it plays. Hopefully we won't get any rain because it's still playing a little firm, thank goodness.''

He's not a long hitter by any stretch. He was 194th on the tour in distance last year, but finds ways to compensate in this power-hitting era. Funk was second on the tour in driving accuracy last year, which translates into him consistently hitting greens and consistently cashing checks.

``He's just a positive guy, a motivated guy, and he gets up every morning and likes what he does,'' Furyk said. ``He really works hard at it and he's been able to last much longer than most players. You see a lot of guys slow down usually in their mid-40s. ... He's not the longest, but he's feisty and he finds a way to get it done.''

Funk missed only three cuts in 2006, the same year he became eligible to play on the Champions Tour, which he's resisted joining full-time because he still wants to compete on the main tour.

He isn't planning on playing any Champions Tour majors, and his only stop on the 50-and-over tour between now and the FedExCup playoffs may be The Ginn Championship at Hammock Beach, starting March 30.

``I feel like I'm indirectly helping the Champions Tour by staying out here and having success on this tour,'' Funk said.

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