Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Funk Ready to Defend; "It's Been a Nice Ride," Says 2005 Players Champ; Now He's Back to Business

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Funk Ready to Defend; "It's Been a Nice Ride," Says 2005 Players Champ; Now He's Back to Business

Article excerpt

Byline: FRANCINE KING

Fred Funk has become a ring master.

Since winning The Players Championship last year, Funk's life has turned into a three-ring circus of charity work, media appearances and, of course, golf.

This week, the Ponte Vedra Beach resident directs the spotlight to that last ring, as he returns to his home course and attempts to become the first back-to-back Players champion.

"It's almost overwhelming this week," Funk said. "Obviously, it's been a whirlwind a little bit with the media requests and demands and other things I've been doing, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"It's been a nice ride," he added. "Although, I feel when [Thursday] morning shows up and that first ball goes in the air, I disappear off the map unless I do something again to defend my title."

But Funk, who begins his title defense on the 10th tee at 8:24 a.m. today, doesn't think his act will vanish anytime soon.

"I'm real confident with my game right now," Funk said. "I'm playing better now than I did coming into this tournament last year. If I can get the putter a little hotter and just tighten it up just a little bit, I think I can do really well this week.

"I've always played well here," Funk said of the TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course. "It's a golf course I know I can play."

In 15 appearances at The Players, Funk has missed only two cuts -- his first effort in 1991 and again in 2002. Before last year's win, his best finishes were tied for 10th in 2004, tied for 13th in 1996 and 2000, and tied for 14th in 1997.

Funk said the key to a good finish at The Players is consistently clean play, particularly on the final few holes. He said the course is so tough in places that he'd relish just being in the hunt on Sunday.

"Getting in that final group and having a chance to win . . . that's what it's all about," Funk said. "This golf course is so fun to have that atmosphere and be a part of that atmosphere, especially back on 16 and 17 [with] that incredible amphitheater they have back there. I sure would love to just get in the position to have a chance."

Just having a chance is a theme the ring master has also repeated in his charity work arena, particularly in regard to J. …

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