Funk's 'storybook' week has perfect ending

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The Funk family celebrates Fred Funk's Insperity Championship win. It was his first Champions Tour win in two years.
May 06, 2012
Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- They met behind the driving range in 1992. A set-up, kind of, courtesy of then-Houston Golf Association president Ken Stockton.

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All Sharon Archer knew was all anyone had been talking about for the last two days was the guy standing in front of her -- Fred Funk. He'd shot a course record 62 at TPC at The Woodlands the day before; a 70 to close the deal a bit earlier that afternoon and win his first PGA TOUR event -- the Shell Houston Open.

It took him a year to ask her out. Another one to marry her.

So pardon the few tears that were rolling down her cheeks Sunday afternoon.

Two decades after that first meeting, Funk stiffed his approach to the 18th hole and rolled in the 12-inch putt to beat Tom Lehman by a shot and win the 2012 Insperity Championship.

"One of the best shots I ever hit,'' Funk said. "The putt to win THE PLAYERS (2005) . .. that was good. But it was a putt. It wasn't a 5-iron over water.''

Quite an exclamation point. Ditto for birdies on four of the last five holes.

"These are some strong finishing holes here,'' Funk said, "so you've got to play some golf coming in. So I did.''

No 62s this time around. Just a steady stream of sixtysomethings -- 66-69-67 -- and that dart at 18. No introductions, either, unless you count the number of times he introduced his 16-year-old son and caddie Taylor and daughter Perri to friends.

And, oh, a few milestones.

* First win with Taylor on his bag.

* First win since 2010 Jeld-Wen Tradition.

* First win since undergoing two thumb surgeries and wondering if his career was, well, still a career.

* And, 15th player to win a Champions and PGA TOUR event on the same course, first one since Tom Watson won the 2007 Senior British Open at Muirfield, same site where he won the 1980 British Open.

Whew.

Funk and Lehman were locked in a battle until just after the turn when Lehman birdied the 12th and 13th holes to open a two-shot lead. Then he opened the door.

After both players birdied the 14th, Lehman three-putted the 15th for par. Funk birdied from 5 feet, then added an 8-footer at the 16th to tie things up and set the stage for the 18th hole.

Funk hit first from the fairway and went right at the flag.

"Came off the club perfect,'' Funk said. "I didn't know in a dream it was going to be a foot from the hole, that was great. Tom hit a great shot and great putt but didn't go in, and I tap in.''

He grinned. "Did better than I did the first time when I won in '92. That was 7 iron almost in the water. I remember that one.''

Lehman thought he would be right next to Funk. Instead, his shot caught a gust of wind and he was staring at 12 feet and a rough edge of the cup for a playoff. The putt rolled over the right edge.

"The cup had a bunch of junk on the right edge and went right over the top of this maybe I should have had an official looked at it before I putted, because I think it kept it out of the hole,'' Lehman said. "Some kind of damage to the lip, rolled over and looked like it couldn't miss and it did.''

Like Funk, Lehman was trying to jumpstart his season with a win. Instead, he came up one short.

"I hit one bad shot, I hit a bad shot on the first hole, a wedge, after I hit a tee shot into a divot,'' said Lehman, last year's Player of the Year and Charles Schwab Cup champ. "Other than that, I hit just good shot after good shot after good shot, and really felt in control of my game and rolled the ball pretty nicely, and hit some good putts that didn't go in. Especially the putt on 18.

"So you know, very disappointed, I have to be honest with you, I haven't been this disappointed after a tournament in a long time. I'm equally happy for Fred and proud of the way he played and the way he finished, and equally disappointed for myself for just feeling like I played well and didn't get the W."

Funk was bouncing around after the win, shaking hands and agreeing with a fan that said "You're back!"

"You bet I'm back,'' he said, as he bounded up the stairs and into the scoring tent. Taylor went with him and Sharon and Perri followed.

This one was special. And not just because it was in Houston.

Funk had knee replacement surgery in 2009 and two thumb surgeries last year.

"I've been through a lot,'' he said, "It's been a battle. I had (the knee) replaced and I had a staph infection before I had it replaced and I had 18 drainings before I had the staph; that's how I got it.''

The first surgery on his thumb wasn't enough, so he had a second to fuse it and was in a cast from August to January 1.

"I still know it's there, but I went through -- I was wondering if I was going to have a career,'' he said. "So I've been really blessed with this opportunity to play again and to play at a high level.

"I had to fight hard, I tell you, I didn't want to give up yet. Kind of like (Mariano) Rivera, the pitcher. I love it too much. I don't like playing and losing. I don't like playing with these guys and not being in the mix. So my goal was to get back in the mix.''

He felt it coming the last five or six weeks and knew he was working on the right things.

"Even if I didn't win today, I knew I was working on the right stuff and I was really looking forward to the rest of the season from here,'' he said.

Instead he won.

The '92 SHO was his first win and he went on to win seven more times on the TOUR. This is his seventh Champions win, but the first of the next phase of his career.

As for Lehman? He's getting close to winning again, too.

"You practice and you work so you can gain confidence in parts of your game that you consider to be the weakest so that when the pressure is on you can execute,'' he said. " Obviously putting has always been the part of my game that's been the shakiest with pressure on. Not that it's shaky putting but it's just I'm better hitting a tee shot than I am at making a putt.

"To step up and just stroke it the way you want to and hit your line the way you want to and everything, that's what disappoints me. It's hard to swallow hitting good putts that don't go in, especially under pressure.''

But when you do? Well, Funk was beaming.

"It's been very special,'' he said. "No question, it was a storybook type of week.''

Make that another one.

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