- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — For about 15 minutes yesterday, Fred Funk stood alone atop the leader board at the 104th U.S. Open.

“I saw I was leading,” said Funk, who reached 5-under through 13 holes before a trio of stretch-run bogeys yielded a third-round 72 and left him three strokes in arrears of South Africa’s Retief Goosen. “I actually said to [caddie Mark Long], ‘Hey, isn’t this cool? I’m leading the U.S. Open right here.’ He says, ‘Hey, it doesn’t mean anything until tomorrow.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but it’s still pretty cool.’”

That’s exactly the kind of candor and excitement that has made the 48-year-old Funk a fan favorite since his week-long leader board stay and fist-pumping, silly-strutting routine at the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

And in spite of his poor finish yesterday, the former Maryland golf coach and Takoma Park native was his usual gregarious self minutes after signing his scorecard.

“I’m going to go out there and have fun tomorrow,” said Funk (2-under), who is coupled with Phil Mickelson in the day’s penultimate group in what is certain to be the people’s pairing. “If I shoot 90, fine. If I shoot 65, that’s fine.”

Like many players yesterday, Funk had a few choice words for the condition of the course, which is completely baked out and virtually unplayable in some places on the greens thanks to warm, windy conditions.

“It’s like Daytona with a bunch of oil all over it,” said Funk, whose tie for fourth at the 2002 PGA was his previous best finish at a major. “The golf course is silly out there. It’s nearly laughable because of the conditions of these greens.”

Clark’s big day

Tim Clark was a couple of feet and an inch from the round of his life, let alone the U.S. Open.

The native of South Africa shot a 4-under 66, the best score of the third round and only one of three under par at Shinnecock Hills. In addition to moving him onto the leader board — he’s tied for sixth place, four shots behind leader Retief Goosen ? it started conversations of what could have been.

He had a tap-in eagle on the par-5, 537-yard 5th hole and he missed a 2-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th. A 64 would have been one shot off the Open’s 18-hole record. The double-eagle would have been just the second ever recorded in an Open as T.C. Chen had one in 1985 at Oakland Hills.

It would have been the second double-eagle in a month for Clark and would have been with the same club.

“From the fairway it looked like it went in the hole, got up there and it was literally an inch behind the cup, pretty much a tap-in eagle,” he said of the 6-iron from 210 yards. “I made a double-eagle with that club in the qualifying for this event.”

He had four birdies and two bogeys, but it was the par on 18 that kept him from really enjoying the round.

“I just hit a bad putt. It’s a tough way to finish,” he said of his short run at another birdie on the final hole. “I guess I have to put that behind me and go out tomorrow.”

Clark, who has been bothered by a sore right wrist, finished tied for ninth last week at the Buick Classic.

“I feel I’ve been swinging the club great and making my fair share of putts,” he said.

With Goosen leading, Ernie Els tied for second and Clark, South Africa has three players in the top seven heading into the final round. Clark is the only one of the three without an Open title.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

“If he keeps his health he might win a U.S. Open,” Els said of Clark. “He’s straight off the tee, he’s got good iron play. Retief, he’s got the perfect temperament and a hell of a game. We’ve got great players coming through and it’s good for the country, it really is.”

Tiger’s troubles

Tiger Woods had a 3-over 73 to continue his struggles in third rounds of the U.S. Open.

Woods, who has won this event twice, has broken 70 only once in the nine third rounds he has played. He had a 69 at Southern Hills in 2001, when he finished tied for 12th. The years he won he had a third-round 71 (2000) and 70 (2002).

Woods closed his round with an eagle 2 when he holed a sand wedge from 106 yards.

“I tell you what, that definitely put me back in the tournament, where if the wind blows and I play a great round of golf, I can still win this tournament,” he said.

Lucky break

Chris DiMarco broke his driver on Friday and said it was one of the best things he ever did.

He finished the second round using a 3-wood off the tee and missed one fairway over the final 13 holes. Yesterday, he went to a backup driver and again found the fairway nine times.

“The backup was the same as the other driver so maybe it was me and not the club,” he said after shooting a 70 that left him at 2-over 212. “Nah, breaking that was the best thing that happened to me.”

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