AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As the golf coach at the University of Maryland, Fred Funk once walked around the grounds of the Augusta National Golf ,7p,14l Club. His team was playing in a local tournament and Funk got to see a practice round before The Masters.
"I think it was 1987 or 1988," Funk recalled yesterday.
Funk was walking around the course again yesterday, but with one huge difference: This time, he was inside the ropes, getting ready to play in his first Masters. Funk, 36, is one of 12 first-timers in the field of 90 starting today.
"It was one of those fantasies; it went beyond my expectations," said Funk, who qualified by winning last year's Shell Houston Open, his first and so far his only victory since joining the PGA Tour in 1989. "I always felt I could win, but the fact that I could do it was unbelievable."
So far, the experience of being at The Masters has meant only soaking up the atmosphere ("It's like a carnival," he said). Playing in yesterday's par-3 tournament. And working on the parts of his game that have given Funk trouble this season.
Today, it will mean a lot more.
"It's still a big deal," he said. "I want to play well, but I don't want to put too much pressure on myself."
It has been a rough year for Funk, both on and off the course. After finishing 34th on the money list with a career-high $416,930 in earnings last year, Funk is 77th ($64,649) and has missed the cut in three of his past four tournaments.
Funk and his wife, Marianne, separated last winter. He moved to Florida, but is in the process of moving back to Maryland to be close to their 20-month-old son, Eric. Funk's mother and stepfather are here with him this week.
"It's been a difficult time as far as that," Funk said of the separation. "But I want to be near my son. That's very important to me."
Couples revisits No. 12
Defending champion Fred Couples made his return to the par-3 12th hole yesterday. It was there last year when he probably won the tournament, when his tee shot hit the bank above Rae's Creek, rolled back and stopped 18 inches from the pond.
Couples tried to make the same shot during a practice round, as Ian Woosnam was able to do during his tuneup. "It stayed there for a second, rolled back and trickled in," said Couples. "The crowd was going crazy."
Don't expect to see that kind of miracle shot again, at least not this year.
"They've shaved it like a putting green," said Couples. "I don't think they're worried about having some kid get a ball stuck in there."
The pre-tournament talk here isn't about fast greens, but slow fairways. In a move to make the course play a bit longer, the grass has been cut from green to tee instead of from tee to green. It makes for better lies, but less roll.
"I think the fairways are in the finest condition I have ever seen," said veteran Ray Floyd, the 1976 Masters champion. "It is mowed like a carpet. I don't believe it to be terribly adverse. Mowing toward the tees is for the integrity of the golf course."
Beck wins par-3 event
Chip Beck saw his odds of winning greatly damaged yesterday when he won the nine-hole, par-3 tournament with a score of 6-under-par 21. The par-3 winner never has won the main event.
Beck scored a two-shot victory over Joey Sindelar, Mike Hulbert, Gene Sauers and Mark Brooks.