TURTLE BAY CHAMPIONSHIP
Fred Funk shot a 7-under 65 yesterday to lead the Turtle Bay Invitational by two strokes after one round.
Decision to play Turtle Bay is paying off for Funk
The two-tour player leads by two strokes at the Champions' first full-field event of 2007
Fred Funk is sure glad he changed his mind.
Originally planning to skip the $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship and return home to Florida to fine tune his game, Funk opted for another week in Hawaii, in part because he had heard good things about the Arnold Palmer-designed course.
It certainly suited his steady style of play yesterday as he opened with a 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead over fellow MasterCard participants Tom Kite and David Eger, and John Harris, Tom McKnight and Japan's Kiyoshi Murota.
Local favorite David Ishii, D.A. Weibring and Jerry Pate were three shots back at 4-under 68 and begin today's round tied for seventh. There were only 13 golfers who managed rounds in the 60s as the tradewinds made their first appearance of the week.
In all, 38 golfers shot par or better in the first full-field event of 2007 for the Champions Tour. Defending champion Loren Roberts three-putted the 18th for par, a hole he made eagle on to win the tournament last year, to be among four golfers at 3-under 69. Chip Beck and Allen Doyle were also in that group.
Most of the first-round leaders have played this wind-swept course before, but Funk's knowledge is limited to two pro-am rounds in rather benign conditions compared to yesterday's blustery trades. He proved to be a quick study, with seven birdies and no bogeys as the man still planning to play on both tours prepares for the weekend.
"I was planning on skipping San Diego (Buick Invitational) anyway," Funk said of this week's event on the PGA Tour. "So I would have had to go all the way back to Florida then all the way back to Phoenix (for next week's PGA Tour stop).
"So I wanted to stay out here in Hawaii and work on my game under competition. So, it just fit. I heard this was a great golf course and I figured if I found my game, my normal ball-control game, that this would be a good golf course for me. That's what everybody told me. And it is. My game's not quite where I want it to be, but the putter was working today."
Funk needed only 26 putts on a surface that's a lot different than the one he experienced last week at Hualalai Golf Club. After one round, Funk was fourth in putting at 1.600 strokes per green, tied for first in driving accuracy (85.7 percent) and tied for second in greens in regulation (83.3 percent), showing his score was no accident.
"Overall, I got away with some marginal shots and that always makes you feel good," Funk said. "I had a couple of other opportunities that I didn't convert, but I also made some long putts that made up for some poor shots, considering I had a wedge in my hand."
Reigning Champions player of the year Jay Haas watched his tee shot on No. 1 yesterday.
Unlike Jay Haas, the Champions Tour player of the year in 2006, and Loren Roberts, who finished second to Haas in money won and in the Charles Schwab Cup race, Funk still has his PGA Tour card. He plans to remain mostly on the regular tour, playing in as many as 27 events. He could see action in five or six tournaments on the Champions Tour, depending on how well he's doing in the PGA Tour's FedExCup race.
"If I have a really good year on the regular tour, then I'm going to go another year out there," Funk said. "I'm going to stay out there until my game starts telling me to move. I worked my whole life to be on the regular tour. And I just don't want to give that up."
His last win on the PGA Tour was in 2005 at The Players Championship. Because of that victory at what many consider the fifth major on the PGA Tour, Funk will remain exempt until he's 55 or 56. Funk played in only three Champions Tour events last year, but did manage to win the AT&T Championship to finish 48th on the money list with $344,122. The 50-year-old is still mapping out his plans for 2007, but he will spend a limited amount of time with the senior set this season.
"I could be exempt on the PGA Tour for a long time and that's good," Funk said. "It's always good to have options. (Jack) Nicklaus actually told me at the President's Cup, 'You'll know. Whatever your goals are, when you're not achieving those goals or getting close to those goals, you'll know it's time to move on.'
"In a way, it would be good for the Champions Tour if I go out there and play well. And then come out here and play well here as well. It validates this tour even more, not that this tour needs validation because I think the Champions Tour is wonderful. The players out here are really good. I'm going to have as much fun as I can playing both."
Funk certainly had more fun today than Hale Irwin, who has won at Turtle Bay four times, and this event six times, dating back to when it was the Kaanapali Classic in 1997. He won't have to worry about winning the first two events of the year as Roberts did in 2006. Irwin finished at 2-over 74, including a quadruple-bogey 8 at the seventh.
Kite will be in a better frame of mind than Irwin as he opens his second round just two shots off the pace. Kite finished in a tie for second to Irwin at last week's winners-only MasterCard Championship. He had a chance for eagle at the last yesterday, but like several putts on the back nine for Kite, they just couldn't quite locate the hole.
The University of Texas graduate said earlier this week that his golf game is rounding into shape.
"If I can get some putts to fall, then I should be right there," Kite said. "I love the way I'm swinging the clubs right now. I worked hard in the offseason and it's showing up in the way I'm striking the golf ball."
Eger didn't have quite as strong a finish at the MasterCard as Kite, but he was pleased with the results of his round yesterday, if not his play overall.
"I didn't play real well," Eger said of his 5-under 67. "It was a lot of work. I probably could have shot 75 today. I'm not sure I could have shot much lower. I played very well last week, but didn't putt well. Today I putted well, but didn't strike the ball as well as I would have liked. The greens here are difficult to read. Hopefully, I'll do a better job of keeping the ball in play today."