TPC Sawgrass has last laugh

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

If they played golf at the X Games, this is what it would be like.

For four days, when the thunder wasn't rolling and the lightning wasn't flashing, The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was defenceless against one of the great fields ever assembled.

After the second round, the cut was made at two-under par, second lowest in The Players Championship history.

Without a breath of wind to deter them and with soft greens to throw darts at, during those brief periods when the players were allowed on the course, they abused par.

And then it was Monday and the monster awoke.

TPC Sawgrass will never play easier than it did on the weekend, and may never play harder than it did yesterday when the sun came out and the wind started to blow.

"It wasn't a day for sissies," said Tom Lehman, who somehow negotiated what his caddie called "a house of horrors" for the low round of the day, a 68.

Lehman finished three shots off the lead at eight under about 90 minutes ahead of the leaders, then watched the carnage, hoping they would come back to him.

A few did, but not Fred Funk.

Without the wet conditions that preceded yesterday, the golf course might have been unplayable when the winds blew between 25 and 40 m.p.h. yesterday.

At least the greens were still receptive, as were most of the fairways.

Back in 1999 when the course played hard, dry and fast, the final round produced a final-round scoring average of 75.

Yesterday's final-round scoring average was 76.5.

Just imagine what the scoring average would have been with wind like yesterday on a golf course set up hard and fast.

"It would have been unplayable without the soft greens and fairways," Vijay Singh said.

In the end, the leaderboard had sifted through all the players in the field and identified some of the best workmanlike grinders in the game. Funk, Scott Verplank, Joe Durant, Lehman, Luke Donald ... all good ballstrikers who hit the ball straight.

There were few bombers who thrived in yesterday's conditions, and certainly none of the so-called Fab Four.

Singh made a quadruple bogey eight on the 18th hole in the second round, but rallied to get to six under yesterday before coming unglued to finish at four under.

Ernie Els shot 69 yesterday, one of only three rounds in the 60s, but he settled for three under, same as Mike Weir. They each collected $112,000 US for their 17th-place tie.

Phil Mickelson was one of many victims at the par-3 17th island green and finished at two over. Tiger Woods was up the track at five over.

And there, out in front of that glittery field that included all 50 of the world's top 50, was Fred Funk, No. 59 in the world, just 15 months shy of his 50th birthday.

"I just can't believe I won this," he said.

He became the oldest player to win this tournament by eight years.

"It's my biggest win by far. The tournaments I've won in the past, usually they move the venue or get rid of the tournament."

Funk didn't exactly bring it home with confidence and swagger. He three-putted three of the last seven greens, including the 17th. But when it counted, at the 18th hole, he drilled in the par putt that eventually made the difference between a solo win and a multi-player playoff.

His best shot down the stretch was a brave 3-iron from the fairway on the par-5 16th that just cleared the rough in front of the green and ran up toward the pin, giving him a shot at eagle. He missed that putt but had an easy birdie that gave him the lead all alone.

Standing in the fairway, preparing for that shot, Funk had come to a realization.

"I was letting The Players Championship go, and I didn't want to let it go," he said. "I just felt like, 'How many chances do I have to win?' I wanted to be aggressive and try to win.

"What feels really good is (beating) not only the Big Four, but the Big 140 that started this thing. It felt good to come out on top in as good a field as this."

As Lehman said, it wasn't a day for sissies.


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