The sun was setting early yesterday evening at the Baltimore Country Club, and in the last of the dying light, with shadows closing in, Fred Funk looked around the putting green.
He was all alone.
The Takoma Park native, 52, dressed in a bright green shirt and wearing his trademark visor, did not seem to mind the solitude. He put his head down again and continued his silent routine of rolling in three-foot putts, over and over. Just a few feet to his right, men in tailored sport coats smoked fine cigars and talked about the state of the economy with their wives, but Funk remained oblivious.
Almost every other player was long gone. Occasionally, one of the few who remained would walk over, hit a few putts, nod in Funk's direction, and then head to the clubhouse. Funk, whose round ended nearly three hours before, remained.
"I'll be very disappointed if I finish anywhere but first here, to tell you the truth," Funk said after shooting a 2-under-par 68 in the second round of the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship.
Funk trails two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw (7-under) by one shot, and the two men should provide an interesting contrast over the final two rounds as they battle for the final major title on the Champions Tour this season.
Crenshaw, a silver-haired, soft-spoken Texan who putts the way Beethoven composed and the way Robert Frost wrote poetry, acknowledges tournament golf is not his biggest priority at age 56. He has never won on the Champions Tour and tries to spend as much time as possible with his three daughters, playing a limited schedule that works around his course-design business.
"I wish I could play more, but I just can't quite get myself to do it at this time in my life," Crenshaw said. "We have a number of fine players out there that are 100 percent committed to golf, and they're playing better than they've ever played. They're very diligent about their game and their practice. But I'm not making excuses. I'm doing exactly what I want to do."
Funk, on the other hand, could hardly want this tournament more. Earlier this week, he estimated he had been playing golf in Maryland for close to 25 years, and it always bugged him he couldn't close the deal at home. He won a pair of Maryland Opens but never a PGA Tour or Champions Tour event.
He came close. At the 1998 Kemper Open at TPC Avenel in Potomac, he led by a stroke going into the final round. He was so nervous, he couldn't stop shaking on the front nine.
"I finally got so mad, I just let it go," Funk said. "I shot 77, but it was one of the best 77s I've ever shot, considering. ... I've always dreamed of winning something of significance in the state of Maryland."
It's an interesting dynamic on the Champions Tour. Some Hall of Fame players with multiple majors on their resume - like Crenshaw and Mark O'Meara - still enjoy playing but can't quite bring themselves to treat it as the be-all, end-all in life.
O'Meara, who shot 67 yesterday to move into a tie for fifth (4-under), spent the majority of his post-round news conference talking about a recent fly-fishing trip he took to British Columbia. He even pulled out his iPhone and showed off pictures of the 18-pound steelhead he landed on the Bulkley River.
"That's my passion, right there," said O'Meara, a catch-and-release fisherman who also ties his own flies. "I'm better at that than I am at golf. I just love the serenity of it. ... Swinging a fly through the water? It's my passion. I've always loved fishing, but I got into fly fishing the last few years. A buddy and I left Coeur d'Alene [Idaho] in my truck at 5 a.m. and drove 18 1/2 hours without stopping to British Columbia. That's what it's all about."
For Funk, however, it's still all about winning golf tournaments, especially this one. Funk doesn't have much cartilage left in his knee; he has already had it drained six times this year just to keep playing.
"The last few times, there's been bone chips in there, so I know it's bone on bone now," Funk said.
His knee hurt so much Wednesday after the pro-am, he wasn't sure what he was going to do. But he put together two good rounds, including five birdies yesterday.
"Tuesday and Wednesday, it felt horrible," Funk said. "Yesterday and today, it feels great. I have no idea why. It was really bad on Wednesday. After I got done with the pro-am, I felt like a cripple. But the last two days it's been good. Could be all the crabs I ate, I guess."
if you go
Today: Third round; first tee time 8:45 a.m. (gates open at 8)
Where: Baltimore Country Club at Five Farms (East Course), Timonium
Purse: $2.6 million ($390,000 to the winner)
TV: Today and tomorrow, 4-6 p.m., chs. 11, 4
Schedule: Today, first tee time 8:45 a.m. (gates open at 8)
Tickets: $22 in advance, $27 at gate for today's and tomorrow's rounds
Parking: Located on Shawan Road in Hunt Valley, just west of Interstate 83
Directions to general parking: I-83 to Exit 20B, merge onto Shawan Road West and follow signs