THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS — THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Last year, Fred Funk opened the BellSouth Classic with a 62, then followed it with a 77.
Last year, Funk was in fifth place at the PGA Championship after 54 holes, then shot an 81 -- high round of the day -- to finish in a tie for 57th.
Yesterday at the Shell Houston Open, the Laurel, Md., resident, leading the $1.2 million PGA Tour event by one stroke entering the final 18 holes, found himself grappling with familiar demons.
"It was tough. I was really uptight Saturday night and this [yesterday] morning," said Funk, 35. "I feel I've had a lot of background and a lot of experience in golf, but I haven't had the experience at this level of what I was doing or prepared to do. I didn't know how I was going to handle it."
Funk knows now. One day after setting The Woodlands TPC course record with a 10-under-par 62, the former University of Maryland men's golf coach passed this challenge with a 2-under-par 70 for a two-stroke triumph over Kirk Triplett.
Funk, who won $216,000 for his first PGA Tour victory, finished the 72-hole tournament with a 16-under-par total of 272. Triplett birdied four of the last seven holes to shoot 67 for his 274 score.
"The last time I won a tournament was in 1987 at the Erie [Pa.] Classic," Funk said. "They had 40 guys from the PGA Tour come out and I won that as a club pro."
Not only did Funk end a five-year drought, but he also rocketed up the PGA Tour money list from 139th to 18th ($240,108). He gets a two-year exemption on the Tour, as well as an invitation to the 1993 Masters.
"The two-year exemption is more important, but in the back of mind, I knew that [a win] was my ticket to get there [The Masters]," Funk said.
Funk's only significant gaffe was a three-putt bogey at the par-4 seventh, when he missed from five feet. Funk displayed his poise down the stretch with a birdie at the par-4 10th and a flag-rattling tee shot at the treacherous par-3 14th, which put some distance between Funk and his closest pursuers.
Funk's fading 3-iron on the 177-yard hole hit the pin after one bounce and stopped hole-high seven feet from the cup. He made the putt to go 16-under on what had been the most difficult hole of the tournament to lead Texan Mark Brooks by two strokes and defending champion Fulton Allem by three.
"I hit it perfectly like I wanted; it probably was my best shot of the week," Funk said. "When I birdied that hole, that's when I thought I had it [the tournament]."
His suspicions were confirmed when Allem (who finished fourth at 73276) bogeyed the par-3 16th at the same time Brooks splashed his approach at the par-4 17th en route to a double-bogey.
Those disasters didn't prevent Funk from providing a little extra suspense at the 445-yard 18th. His 6-iron approach shot from 160 yards cleared the water in front of the green by less than a foot. He chipped three feet past, then made the putt for his par and the win.
"After what had happened to me at the PGA last year, I was just hoping I wasn't going to do that again. When I got up on the range, I started hitting balls and my swing just was in a groove. I don't know where it came from," Funk said. "I said to myself, 'I don't know where it came from, but I'm not going to argue with this.' I was really, really swinging good all day."
What Funk has lined up now is tournaments the next five weeks, including the Kemper Open at Potomac, Md.