- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

The memories still linger in Fred Funk’s mind, even five years after the fact.

Funk remembers the 1998 Kemper Open all too well. How he put together two of the best rounds of his golf life (64-66) to take a three-stroke lead into the weekend at TPC at Avenel. And how he proceeded to give it all back with a disastrous 77 on Sunday, spoiling the Takoma Park native and former Maryland golf coach’s dream of winning his hometown tournament.

For five years, he’s been itching to make up for his Sunday swoon. And after shooting a 5-under 66 yesterday to move into a fourth-place tie at the renamed Capital Open, Funk finally has his chance.

“I definitely want this one,” Funk said after completing his best round at Avenel since the second-round in 1998. “That one is still in the back of my mind. I wanted it so bad that I just didn’t relax on Sunday and lost it early. I had a little bit of nerves going and I just didn’t handle it well early in the round.”

The local favorite looked as cool as they come on the course yesterday. Buoyed all afternoon by spirited galleries that were clearly in his corner, Funk went out and birdied four of the first six holes using a belly putter for the first time in two years. By the time he drained a 4-footer for birdie on the par-4 14th, he found himself at 6 under for the day and only one stroke off the lead.

Funk hit a huge snag on No.15, barely getting out of the rough on his second shot and barely getting out of a bunker on his fifth and then needing to make a 15-footer from the fringe to salvage a double bogey 6.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” he said.

Funk rallied down the stretch, though. He made pars on Nos.16 and 17 and then thrilled the crowd with a 15-footer for birdie on the 18th to put himself into a six-way tie for fourth at 7 under, four strokes behind leader Rory Sabbatini.

“It was one of those what-if rounds. I really had a 61 or 62 today turn into a 66,” said Funk, who had four second-place and two fourth-place finishes (including the PGA Championship) in 2002. “In one regard, it’s a lot of positives. In another regard, I don’t feel that great about the 66 because I let a really good round go today.”

This much is certain: Funk does not plan to let the pressure he experienced five years ago get to him again today.

“I’ll be more relaxed and just go out and play,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve got a little salty, old veteran in me. I’m hitting the ball really well right now, and if I can set them up like I did [yesterday], who knows what’s going to happen?”

Parking infuriates patrons

With all makeshift public parking lots at TPC at Avenel flooded from this week’s various downpours, thousands of Capital Open spectators were forced yesterday to wait up to two hours for shuttle buses to and from the satellite lot in Bethesda.

Few found the experience to be a pleasant one.

“You can’t put into print what I think about this,” said one disgruntled man as he stood in a seemingly never-ending line outside the Avenel clubhouse early last evening.

All vehicles were re-directed over the weekend to the Marriott corporate headquarters near Democracy Boulevard, about five miles from the golf course. A constant stream of free shuttles ran from there to Avenel and back all day, but it still wasn’t enough yesterday to keep huge backups from occurring.

Various spectators reported waits of 30 minutes to an hour to get to the course in the morning and up to two hours to leave Avenel in the evening. Many let their frustrations known.

“Never again,” said patron Jim Dyches 1 hours into his wait last evening. “I’ve been to seven golf tournaments in my life, and I’ve never, ever had to wait like this. They had to see this coming.”

For some, simply finding the end of the line at Avenel proved to be a 10- to 15-minute ordeal.

“We’ve been past this same starting gate four times,” lamented one man.

Most spectators said they understood the no-win situation tournament organizers found themselves in after one of the soggiest months on record, and many were quick to say that every other aspect of the tournament was well-run.

Daniel Sipes, who said he had been in line for 1 hours, had one piece of advice for future tournaments.

“Get a bigger parking lot,” he said.

With only a few thousand fans expected to show up for today’s rare Monday round, organizers expect to accommodate all vehicles at the Avenel Recreation Center, which is within walking distance of the clubhouse.

Stiles’ dozen

The ninth hole at TPC at Avenel seems innocent enough, a 166-yard, downhill, par-3 with a large green bordered on the front and right by a stream.

Darron Stiles, who finished with a 79, will be having nightmares about No.9 for the rest of his life after carding a staggering 12 on the hole yesterday.

The 30-year-old tour rookie was actually putting together a solid third round after posting 69-71 to make the cut. But he hit his tee shot on No.9 short of the creek and into some of the thickest, wettest grass he’s ever seen.

Figuring he had no chance of hitting out of the hazard safely, Stiles took a drop. Still in long, think grass, Stiles took a full swing and plunked the ball into the creek.

“I was trying to hit it 10, 15 feet past the hole,” he said. “But the ground was so wet, I just couldn’t get the club to go through the ground.”

Stiles hit into the creek three times before finally clearing it on his ninth stroke, much to the delight of the sympathetic gallery.

“By the time I was dropping the fourth ball, I didn’t care if I hit it up where the people were sitting on the hill,” he said. “I was going to get it over that creek.”

Stiles chipped to eight feet with his 10th shot and then lipped out for 11.

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