Kemper Open
Kemper Open
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Event Features
Appleby makes a sentimental journey to Kemper
Fred Funk longs to impress the home fans

Fred Funk never played well in the tournament closest to his home -- until last year.

"I was in the final group," Funk said. ``But coming down 18, I was the one waving the white flag."

Funk, the former golf coach at the University of Maryland and always a local favorite, led the Kemper Open after three rounds before shooting a 77 on Sunday to finish tied for third. His previous best finish in 12 Kempers was a tie for 27th, and he had missed the cut five times.

So, feeling he'd blown his big chance, Funk went into a funk.

"I replayed for months what happened to me on Sunday," said Funk, who was born in nearby Takoma Park. "I wanted this tournament too much. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Two days after that, I didn't sleep for three days. Since then, I have had trouble on weekends."

Funk has been playing better lately, tying for second last week at the Colonial. But, as he prepared to tee off today for the first round of the Kemper, he had to shake off a recurring neck injury that would have him withdrawing from other tournaments.

"I'm definitely going to push it," Funk said. ``If I can swing at all, I'm going to play. If it were a normal tournament, I'd have probably pulled out."

The galleries will be rooting for Funk again, but they also will have a soft spot for defending champion Stuart Appleby. The Kemper was the last tournament Appleby's wife saw him win before the freak traffic accident that took her life in London six weeks later.

Earlier this month, Appleby returned here to relive some memories. Now he's trying to focus on his game.

"It's been a little bit different from a normal week, but not much," he said. "Every week is weird."

Since his return to golf after the accident, Appleby has become everybody's sentimental favorite. He credited his wife's inspiration for victories at the Coolum Classic in Australia in December and the Houston Open earlier this month.

"It's not my choice to be the sentimental favorite," Appleby said. ``It's nice to think there are people out there supporting me, maybe more than someone else, that's nice. That's their choice. I'd rather be someone who they like and they're all happy to see win."

Since it began playing host to the Kemper 12 years ago, the Avenel course has developed from a much-maligned place to avoid to a challenging stop that's earned some respect. All the winners of last year's majors -- Vijay Singh, Lee Janzen and Mark O'Meara -- are in the field, as well as seven of the top 15 on the current PGA Tour money list.

Besides Funk, another golfer with local ties arriving with a hot game is Olin Browne, a Washington native who won the Colonial for his second career title. He's getting his restless nights in before the tournament starts.

"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I haven't had a decent night's sleep yet," said Browne, who is staying with his mother and is having his brother caddy for him. "I'm just going to try to let things flow."