|Fred Funk strokes his birdie try just off the green on the second hole Friday. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - Fred Funk has been here before, literally, figuratively, even recently.
In a literal sense, Funk was here, at Crooked Stick Golf Club, in 1991 for the PGA Championship. He played relatively well until plopping a final-round 81 on his accumulative score. "OK, I did collapse," Funk joked, "that's why I don't want to remember it. I guess I didn't want to bring that up."
He has been here figuratively in that he has been in serious contention at the 30th U.S. Senior Open, just as he was at the 29th Senior Open in Colorado Springs, Colo. Funk had the lead after two rounds last year, before losing it over the weekend to Eduardo Romero and settling for second place.
"You know, last year I played extremely well and I just had one really bad swing on the 13th hole (at The Broadmoor), and just followed a mistake with other mistakes and made triple. That was the end of that. And whether you learn anything from that, who knows? I don't."
The immediate response might be to say, 'Not necessarily.' Because in the recent sense, Funk was here in a major again just last week, finishing in a playoff second to Loren Roberts at the Senior British Open.
"Well, that was disappointing last week, and even last year," said Funk, who posted a 5-under-par 67 to his championship sheet to reach nine under at Crooked Stick, two strokes off the 36-hole pace of amateur leader Tim Jackson. "Last week, I was scoring really well and had a good position. I'm going to keep putting the pedal to the metal and not look back.
"I feel like I want to keep knocking at the door and seconds don't feel too good, but they're better than third, so I'll keep going."
He's doing this in spite of injuries, the most serious that could lead to a knee replacement at the end of the season.
The 53-year old Funk finished tied for 57th at the PGA in '91, a year in which he averaged 252 yards in driving distance on the PGA Tour. Eighteen years later at Crooked Stick, Fink is averaging 301 yards off the tee through two rounds and has landed on 26-of-28 fairways.
"I don't remember the ball running this much in '91," said Funk, who won the JELD-WEN Tradition last year, his first Champions Tour major. "I'm hitting it, because of technology, a little farther. But I don't get that huge gain that the guys who have a lot of clubhead speed get. It's just the conditions of the fairways right now that are so good. I'm not 50 yards farther."
That said, Funk said there is no question he is a better player than he was 18 years ago.
"Not even close," he added. "That was my third year on the PGA Tour and I was still intimidated and trying to see if I belonged on the Tour. This biggest thing I realized is these guys are pretty human out here, and they have bad days. When they're on, they're really good. When I was on, I knew I was really good, so that helped me."
It certainly appears, one year removed from a near miss in this championship, one week removed from an agonizingly close call in Berkshire, England, Funk is very much "on" at Crooked Stick.
"I know I'm going to hit more good shots than bad shots when I'm playing the way I am now," Funk said. "And I'm going to reward myself a lot more than I am not.
"So there are different levels of confidence, to where you are at the top of the leaderboard. Right now, I'm very confident where I am and really going to enjoy it. I'll just see what happens, and whatever happens, happens."
Fred Funk has been here before; he's ready to wind up somewhere else – one place higher.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.