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Maryland native Fred Funk eager to return from rib injury in front of home crowd at Caves Valley

Fred Funk talks about Caves Valley and the upcoming Senior Players Championship. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)

Fred Funk had dinner with a longtime friend in downtown Baltimore on Monday night and quipped that his familiarity with Maryland made the reunion even more special.

"I remember when the Inner Harbor was not the place to go," the Takoma Park native said, "and now it's the place to go. So it's really, really nice."

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The meal was one of the first homecoming events in Funk's return for this week's Constellation Senior Players Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club.

Though he hasn't played the course often, Funk is eager to return from a rib injury — his latest setback in a string of health problems — in front of local supporters.

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"It will be a lot of fun," Funk said. "If I can get myself into contention, it will be really fun. If I can play well this week and have a chance coming down Saturday, Sunday, that will be really special for me. I'm looking forward to that."

The Constellation Senior Players Championship has lost one of its biggest draws -- former Masters champion Fred Couples.

The former Maryland player — he was originally cut from the Terps golf team before graduating as a top performer for the program in 1980 and coaching the squad from 1982 to 1988 — has dealt with injuries in recent years.

The 61-year-old joked during his news conference Tuesday that 50 to 53 years old is the prime age range to win with the PGA Tour Champions, and "unfortunately for me, I followed that."

Since turning 50, Funk estimates he's had 13 surgeries — seven on his right knee after a total replacement in 2009 and staph infection problems. He also has a fused thumb that kept him sidelined for about a year and has endured shoulder and elbow trouble.

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He tries to prevent the setbacks with a disciplined training and rehabilitation schedule, but that, he said, contributed to his rib injury, which forced him to withdraw from the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wis., in late June and to miss the U.S. Senior Open two weeks ago.

While doing an "ab roller" exercise about a month ago, Funk strained the muscles around his ribs to the point at which he had trouble breathing.

"It's one of those injuries where you really should just rest, and I didn't," Funk said. "I was practicing and trying to play my way through it and trying to practice my way through it. It's getting better, but it's still a little bit of an issue."

Funk, however, feels he's used a more prudent training approach in recent years.

He focuses on band work and stretching, hoping to maintain his range and agility, while relying less on lifting weights for strength. He spends about two hours a day in the training room before and after his on-course play during tournaments.

Caves Valley golf superintendent Steve Glossinger, who has been at the Owings Mills club for the past 20 years, will be prepping the course for its second major on the PGA Tour Champions

"It was interesting because every time he got hurt, he would still work on the physical aspect but also the mental side" said Funk's son Taylor, who was homeschooled through high school to travel with his father before playing golf at Texas. "He seemed to almost come back better because he was so mentally prepared. … He still has the game, and as long as he can stay healthy, he'll be playing well."

Funk's also worked on tweaking his swing mechanics. Taylor said Funk has fallen into the poor habit of swinging over the ball, but when he watched his father over the past week hit the ball at more of an inside angle, Funk had better power and less rib pain.

"He's only got so many years left out there, and he wants to play as well as he can right now and is getting a little impatient," Taylor said. "He kind of has an incentive to swing well right now."

His wife, Sharon, conceded Funk has another source of motivation, too.

The Senior Players Championship winner earns an automatic spot in the Players Championship on the PGA Tour next May in Ponte Vedra, Fla. — Funk's current residence.

"That would be a double bonus for him," Sharon said, "because he'd be winning in front of his local hometown crowd and get the opportunity to play in his second home."

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