Fred Funk on edge of Ryder Cup qualification
Fred Funk is thankful his ribs have healed enough that he can play in the PGA Championship. Better yet, he might not have to be on top of his game to achieve his primary goal of making the Ryder Cup team.
"That's all I've been thinking about all year," Funk said Monday.
The PGA Championship is the final tournament for Americans to earn points toward making the team. The top 10 in the standings qualify, and captain Hal Sutton will have two wild-card selections.
Funk tied for second in the U.S. Bank Championship down the road in Milwaukee last month, moving him to No. 8 in the standings. He's still not a lock, but three guys have to pass him, and that includes Jerry Kelly at No. 11 finishing at least third.
"Without those points, I would be even more on the bubble than I am now," he said. "I could definitely be passed. It takes three guys to pass me. Mathematically, it could happen. But without Milwaukee. ..."
It's not Milwaukee that brings Funk praise for his late move up the standings.
It's the B.C. Open that brings him scorn, even though Funk tied for 40th and didn't earn any points. No other Ryder Cup candidates played in the B.C. Open because they were all playing another tournament that week -- the British Open.
Funk was criticized for ducking a major for the sole purpose of earning Ryder Cup points.
Even no, Funk defends his decision.
"Everybody is making a big deal," he said. "I don't know what so wrong with me not going to the British Open and going to the B.C. Open. It was within the rules. It was what's best for me. I don't enjoy going over there. I never have. And I've got my best chance ever to make a Ryder Cup team.
"But because everybody think it was the right decision to go to the British Open, that was the only decision."
Ultimately, he believes it paid off.
Funk said his swing gets altered when he plays a wind-blown links, and often takes him weeks to recover. Time was not on his side trying to make the Ryder Cup. He also had played eight consecutive tournaments, missing the cut in five of them in a desperate move to get on the team. He wanted to be rested for the PGA.
It worked out for him, especially with the way he closed at Milwaukee with two birdies on the final three holes.
And he got some help in recent weeks when a few players in contention for Ryder Cup points stumbled down the stretch, most noticeably Chris DiMarco with a sloppy weekend at the International.
Now comes the final major of the year, two tournaments wrapped into one -- the PGA Championship with all its history, and the pressure of a half-dozen guys trying to play in the Ryder Cup.
How different is this week?
Funk will check his score, who's leading, and also how the other guys in Ryder Cup contention are faring.
"You can't help but see what they're doing," he said. "I was watching The International and trying to figure. I want the guys to be on the team. I want them to play well, but I don't want them to pass me."
The simple solution for Funk and the guys chasing him is to play well.
And that won't be easy.
At 7,514 yards, Whistling Straits is the longest course in major championship history. The previous record was Columbine Country Club in Colorado, which was 7,436 yards -- although that was in mile-high air.
And get this: the PGA of America isn't even using all the length available.
"I've been told that there were 10 really difficult holes, and eight impossible ones," Lee Westwood said. "I'm just trying to sort out which are the 10 difficult holes here."
Who does it favor?
"Probably a long, straight hitter with a good iron game and a great short game and a wonderful putter," he said.
There was a time that used to define Tiger Woods, although he only has a couple of those categories working in his favor at any one time, and that has kept him from dominating the game like he once did.
Woods comes into the PGA Championship having been shut out of the last nine majors, and in jeopardy of losing his No. 1 ranking to Ernie Els (possible) or Vijay Singh (long shot).
Phil Mickelson, whose 1-2-3 run through the majors started with his breakthrough victory in the Masters, played three days last week to learn the nuances of Whistling Straits and to figure out where he can't afford to miss.
That's no small task. Trouble lurks everywhere on the course, although most of the 1,400 bunkers are more of an eyesore than a legitimate threat. That water hazard east of the course -- Lake Michigan -- makes for a stunning view, but it makes some of the greens look as though they're about to topple into the water.
It reminds several players of an Irish links, and who better than Darren Clarke to weigh in on that.
"If you try and remember all of the most difficult holes of all the courses at home, put them all together and I think you'll have this one here," Clarke said.
This is the 15th time Funk has played in the PGA Championship, and he has never seen anything like Whistling Straits. He had to tap his memory to think of another major anywhere near comparable.
"It's somewhat similar to ... you could say a little similar to Shinnecock," he said.
Most guys say it reminds them of a links used in theOpen. For some reason, Funk couldn't make that connection.
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