'Most fun' memories have Funk pumped

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- As he walked off the 18th green at Oak Hill yesterday after finishing his last practice round for the 85th PGA Championship, Fred Funk pulled out his Sharpie and pulled the legs of a few of the fans asking for his autograph.

"Uh-oh," Funk said, "I just ran out of ink."

He was kidding, of course, as he obliged many of those asking him to sign. Funk became something of a cult figure in last year's PGA Championship at Hazeltine, and his newfound status led to a PGA Tour television commercial, a story in Golf Digest and a higher profile among the fans.

"They're saying things like, 'Do it again,' " Funk said. "It's the one-year anniversary of my coming-out party."

Funk hopes to celebrate that anniversary with a performance equal to -- or better than -- last year, when he took a share of the first-round lead with Jim Furyk, led after two rounds and stayed in contention the rest of the week, finishing tied for fourth. It was the highest Funk has finished in a major.

"That was the most fun I've ever had playing golf, short of winning," said Funk, who played the last round with Tiger Woods. "The crowd, the way I played, the way I was reacting."

To recreate that kind of atmosphere this week, he will have to play a lot better than he has lately. After a string of strong performances that included a tie for second in the Capital Open at Avenel in Potomac, Funk went to the British Open and missed the cut with rounds of 75 and 80.

He then came home and missed the cut in the Greater Hartford Open. After finishing tied for 24th in the Buick Open, he missed the cut last week in The International and spent the weekend in Austin, Texas, working with his teacher, Bill Moretti.

"I'm playing good again," said Funk, 47.

Encouraging news

Last week's news out of Baltimore that doctors at Johns Hopkins have made progress in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was encouraging to Tom Watson, whose longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, was diagnosed with the illness, also called Lou Gehrig's Disease, last November.

"What we are hoping for is a cocktail, much like the AIDS victims take to solve their problem," Watson said. "That's the kind of direction that people are pointing."

Watson is playing here while Edwards, along with former PGA Tour player Jeff Julian, who also has the disease, are in the Bahamas undergoing some type of unconventional treatment.

"I'm going to miss him [this week]," said Watson, whose play in this year's U.S. Open brought attention to Edwards' condition. "As far as his condition, he's basically holding in there, getting a little bit worse as far as the disease is concerned."

Scientists last week announced a potential breakthrough, reporting they had greatly slowed the deterioration of lab mice with the ailment through gene therapy.

The treatment involves using a virus to deliver a therapeutic gene to nerve cells in the spinal cord that are under attack. The researchers, at Johns Hopkins and the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said human trials could begin as early as next year.

Sun staff writer Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.

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