SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Fred Funk had never played in front of this kind of gallery. The fans lined the fairways for 18 holes, climbing trees, running for the greens, staking out a patch of viewing room all to get a look at . . .
But Funk didn't mind assuming the role of the human undercard while being paired with Nicklaus for the first time during yesterday's third round at the U.S. Open.
"Jack is the best who ever played the game," said Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach who lives in College Park. "He has won the Open here twice. The fans were really behind him. He is a true gentleman."
Nervous at the start, confident toward the end, Funk outplayed Nicklaus and finished with a 3-under 67 for a three-round total of 1-under 209. Funk is in a six-way tie for sixth, six shots off Lee Janzen's pace of 203.
"In the beginning, all the fans were cheering for Jack," Funk said. "Once I got on the leader board, everyone was trying to pull me in."
While Nicklaus was fading to 8-over 218, Funk was making his climb up the leader board after birdies at 11, 12 and 13 put him 2-under for the tournament.
But after driving into a bunker and taking a bogey at 15, Funk fell to 1-under.
He then missed two superb 10-foot birdie opportunities at 17 and 18. Even Nicklaus said: "I was pulling for him for a birdie the last two holes. I thought he had a chance to win the tournament. He still has a chance."
Funk clearly has set his sights lower. "I'd like to finish in the top 16 to get back to Augusta and the Masters," Funk said. "That's my goal now. And I still need some money to get in the PGA."
But for one day, at least, he beat a legend.
On a roll
The round of the day belonged to David Edwards, whose 4-under 66 put him at 2-under 208 for the tournament.
"I kind of got it rolling," Edwards said after his round of five birdies and a bogey. "It was a nice round."
The round was good enough to get him into contention to make a run for the title this afternoon.
"Golf, for me, really kind of runs in streaks," he said. "The last couple of years have been a long streak for me. My game has gotten a little better. I just think my overall game has improved."
Bad break for poor putter
This is what Robert Gamez learned about breaking his putter at the U.S. Open:
It's not very smart, and it's not exactly the thing to do when you're paired with a star from Japan.
Gamez, in a fit of rage, snapped his putter on the eighth hole
and finished with a sand wedge, driver and 2-iron for the last 10 holes.
"I laid it under my foot, lifted one end, and snap-a-roonie," said Gamez, who was 5-over with his putter and 3-over without it on his way to a 78.
Gamez's playing partner, Jumbo Ozaki, was not impressed. In Japan, it is considered poor etiquette to show anger on a golf course, especially if your opponent is as well-respected as Ozaki.
"It's an individual's liberty to do what he wants," Ozaki said. "It's kind of a shame, though. I came here [to the U.S.] just to play in this tournament, and what he did makes me think that perhaps this is just another tournament to him."
Ozaki finally laughed about the incident when he said, "Who's to say, though, if I putt poorly tomorrow, I may break my putter, too."
When he walks the fairways at Baltusrol, Mike Donald hears the fans who chant, "Make up for Medinah."
It was three years ago at Medinah outside of Chicago when Donald, the journeyman's journeyman, nearly won the U.S. Open. For five days, he was the story before falling to Hale Irwin in a dramatic, heartbreaking playoff.
Since then, Donald has gone back into golf's shadows, struggling to keep his PGA player's card, sliding down the money list, missing the cuts in 10 of the past 18 tournaments in which he has played.
But at this Open, he has put together some solid rounds, including a 3-under 67 yesterday that put him at par 210.
"My expectations changed after that Open three years ago," he said. "All of a sudden, I started thinking I was Curtis Strange or something. I was trying to play better than I am."
Even now, Donald gets emotional when he talks about the Open he could have won. After his playoff loss, he received hundreds of cards. But he could never shake the tag of "Open choker."
"Would winning have changed my life?" he said. "One thing. I would have the trophy."