Fred Funk may once have been known as the worst typing error in golf, but now they must address him as The Players champion. Not only that but the 48-year-old, who lives just up the road, became the oldest-ever winner at Sawgrass yesterday in an evening of the highest drama when Britain's Luke Donald could play nothing greater than a cameo role.
With Scott Verplank, 40, and Tom Lehman, 46, in the group with Donald in joint-second this was undeniably a day for the old hands as Florida decided to throw fiercely high winds at the field. After all, they had had everything else chucked at them in five days that have, at times, defied belief never mind the weather-forecasters rain, hail, thunder, lightning as well as something called sun. Whatever it certainly wasn't a day for the English, as Donald saw his huge shout at the "fifth major" fade out. The 27-year-old earned his biggest cheque ever. Good, but a final-round 76 not quite good enough.
Not that it was easy here yesterday, anything but. The manner in which Funk scrambled home by a solitary shot confirmed that. After seeming to have the event in his grasp at 10-under after finding the island green at the 17th which in the swirling crosswinds was more microchip than postage stamp he then repeated his three-putts at the 14th and 15th to give the gathering clan on eight-under a sniff.
But surely a drive straight down the 18th fairway would clinch it? You're joking, not at the TPC, not when there is water on the left to flirt with before you can bury it deep in a bunker. But with anything up to a five-man play-off beckoning, and with officials taking anxious looks at the dying light, Fred decided enough was enough. He splashed out to five feet and rammed home a putt that he celebrated with a punch in the air that almost wrenched his arm from its socket.
It was not quite over, however, as Donald and his playing partner could still force a play-off, but nobody had yet birdied the last. Donald's putt to go nine under scraped the hole, but was, alas, too little, too late. In truth, his east-coast challenge went west as soon as he finished the third-round with a one-shot lead. He could undoubtedly have done with a lunch, a shower and a whatever after an eventful morning that saw him streak to 13-under, back to 11-under with a double bogey at the 14th, and bravely back to 12-under again. But the organisers were understandably determined to reach the finale without a sixth day and Donald had to almost run back to the first tee. Forty shots later, the front nine had been miserably negotiated and the bogeys at the 12th and 14th wrecked any faint chance he might have believed he still had. A birdie at the 16th only seemd to prolong his torture.
So a Monday that had been rich in promise was now only rich in what could, and probably should, have beens. In conditions that should have suited his highly-disciplined game and without raucous galleries to mangle the nerves, Donald might never have a better chance to land such a "biggie".
Donald had been in the company of two Brits in giddying contention for what would have been the finest triumph since Paul Lawrie's Open in 1999, until Lee Westwood's quite stupendous capitulation as the third round was completed before lunch.
Standing on the 14th tee, Westwood was in joint fourth, at 10 under. Standing on the 18th tee, barely one hour later, he was in joint 31st, at three under. Blown it. His tie for 22nd, as he finished at two under, a poor return for five sterling days work. Sawgrass had bitten a chunk out of him that may take some time to recover. But Westwood was not alone.
Just ask Bob Tway who arrived at the 17th in the morning at seven under and a big pay-day pending. Four plonks in the wet stuff and a three-putt later he had amassed a nine-over 12 to eclipse Robert Gamez's 11 here in 1990 and equal the worst-ever score on this course. "Swinging with the fishes," as Tony Soprano might have commented.Reuse content