- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

CHASKA, Minn. The 84th PGA Championship has turned into a game of cat and mouse.

Takoma Park native Fred Funk, who has barely made a squeak in the majors during his 13-year pro career, raced ahead of the field at Hazeltine yesterday, taking a one-stroke lead at 7 under before he and 40 other players were chased off the course by an early-evening electrical storm.

The 46-year-old Funk, who still has five second-round holes to complete, leaped around the 7,360-yard, par-72 course like a delighted leprechaun, holing virtually every putt in sight and frolicking with a massive gallery obviously charmed by his exuberance.

"I really wasn't conscious that I was that animated," said the former University of Maryland golf coach, who built on his opening 68 by carding mid-range birdies at Nos.10, 13, 15 and 3 against a lone bogey at the fourth. "I'm just trying to have a really good time and enjoy the moment, however long it lasts. If it lasts all the way to the end of Sunday, that's great."

Golf's principal predator might have the ultimate say in that matter. Because while Funk was busy celebrating his best major championship start with Minnesota's smitten masses, Tiger Woods was quietly slinking up behind him on the board.

Like Funk, Woods was still on the course at 7:21 p.m., when lightning strikes in the area forced officials to call play for the day. Woods, 3 under through 16 holes, struck the ball beautifully in the gusty conditions all day but experienced one of his vintage near-miss putting days, grazing the lip on at least four occasions.

Woods refused to talk to the media after his storm-shortened round, opting instead to dash back to his rented house before the eventual deluge. But there's little doubt that he relishes both his weekend position and the light credentials of his quarry. Only six players stand ahead of Woods on the board, and they boast but three majors between them one each for Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard and Retief Goosen (all at 6-under).

Throw in the universal psychological state of his prey, and Woods is probably already picking out a shelf for his third Wanamaker Trophy.

"You know, really the only chance the other players have got is when he's not really in contention, like last year at my U.S. Open," said Goosen, an almost pathetic revelation from the highest-ranked player in the cluster ahead of Woods.

Said Funk: "He's pretty much like Jack Nicklaus was a generation ago. When he showed up on the board, everybody knew he was there and they were aware of him. Tiger is that way. When he shows up on the board, he intimidates everybody."

The intimidating begins at 8:30 this morning, when Woods and the other unfinished quarter of the field shows up to complete second-round play. After the field is cut to low 70 and ties (likely at 4 over), the players will be re-grouped in threesomes and third-round play will start at approximately 10:45.

That is, of course, assuming the weather complies. The forecast for today is pure Muirfield, as a steady gale of 25 to 35 mph is expected, with gusts up to 40 mph and a wind chill in the mid-40s. Everyone remembers what happened to Woods at Muirfield (81 on Saturday), and everyone is eagerly anticipating his next duel with the elements.

That said, such a day would likely wreak havoc on the entire field, particularly players like Funk who would face 23 holes in such conditions.

"I think people like seeing train wrecks," said Funk. "But if they are really severe conditions on a really severe golf course, that's not necessarily fun. And I'm not really sure that talent is the biggest thing that comes out of it when you have really severe conditions. They are calling for 40 mph winds, and we'll see what happens. I think par will be about 78."

Despite his own mild distaste for such a situation, and his spotty record in the majors (just two top-10s in 28 starts), it would take far worse to spoil Funk's mood of late. Just two weeks ago, Funk's 57-year-old brother Bernie came to him asking for help in his long-time battle with alcoholism. Funk has been on an emotional high ever since. And there's little doubt that if he pulled off the biggest major upset in recent history, he would dedicate the victory to his brother.

"That's an emotional story," said Funk. "My brother was really down and out about 2½ weeks ago. I mean, really down and out. He knew he needed help and accepted that fact, and his strength has helped him pull himself out of this thing. I'm so proud of him, and I feel like I've got a brother back that I haven't had for a long, long time.

"You know, if anything negative happens the rest of this week, it's not because of being scared. I'm going to show the strength that my brother has shown, and I'm drawing from him."

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