KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Fred Funk’s winning ways in Hawaii continue, even off the golf course.
Fresh of his victory at the MasterCard Championship, Funk is seeking a Hawaiian sweep at the Turtle Bay Championship, where he ran away with a record 11-stroke victory a year ago.
The Champions Tour’s first full-field event of the year begins Friday but Funk already created a buzz with a thrilling victory in the turtle race.
“I thought it was a great team win – me and my turtle,” he said Thursday. “I really enjoyed it. It was better than the Ryder Cup.”
The only problem is, no golfer has ever won the race and went on to win the tournament. It’s become sort of like the Par-3 Contest at Augusta.
“I didn’t know that,” Funk said. “I would’ve thrown the race.”
The 51-year-old Funk is looking to continue his success in the islands, where he has spent the past month.
On Sunday, Funk won at Hualalai, birdieing the final two holes for a 7-under 65 and a two-stroke victory over Allen Doyle. The victory came after he opened the year by tying for 25th in the PGA Tour’s Mercedes-Benz Championship and tying for 10th in the Sony Open.
“I played really well last week, obviously and I played good at Sony as well,” he said. “I’m playing well right now.”
Last year, Funk had the most-lopsided victory ever in a 54-hole Champions Tour event, finishing with consecutive 8-under 64s for an 11-stroke, wire-to-wire win. He had a tournament-record 23-under 193 total.
“I like runaways. No question,” he said. “Birdies are like deposits in the bank. There are always withdrawals, so you can never have too many deposits.”
Funk will be challenged to repeat last year’s performance. He caught a sinus infection Wednesday and wasn’t feeling well.
Six-time Turtle Bay winner Hale Irwin was feeling good and looking to bounce back from a poor performance at Hualalai, where he finished a career-low 30th in the winners-only field of 41. He won the event last year and in 1997.
The 62-year-old Irwin said his thoughts were with his wife, Sally, who slipped and hit her head in the middle of the night just before the MasterCard. She sustained a concussion and was taken to the emergency room where she received 10 stitches.
“I was kind of concerned about that. My Thursday was very disconcerting and I wasn’t ready to play on Friday,” Irwin said.
Irwin said his wife was much better and considers last week a “dress rehearsal” for Turtle Bay, where he won in 2005 to become the first player to win a PGA Tour-sanctioned event five straight times.
Last year, Irwin tied for 28th at Turtle Bay.
“Having won at Hualalai the week before, I came over here and was a little on the euphoric downside,” he said. “It’s just the reverse this year. I’m looking forward to this week. Last week, my mind was somewhere else.”
Irwin said his goal this year was to play well in the majors. Last season was his worst since joining the 50-and-over circuit. For the first time, he failed to make the cut at the U.S. Senior Open, an event he has won twice and finished runner-up twice.
“I think I lost that intensity and focus,” he said. “I find that as I get older, it’s not so much being physically being able to do it, it’s maintaining that level of intensity and concentration.”
Players will need concentration this weekend.
Unlike last week’s serene conditions at Hualalai, the wind was whipping at 25 mph at the oceanside Arnold Palmer-designed layout during Thursday’s pro-am.
Funk said he doesn’t mind a little wind. Besides playing well in the final windy holes at Hualalai, he became the oldest winner of The Players Championship in 2005 after overcoming gusts up to 40 mph.
“I don’t think of myself as a guy that really enjoys playing in the wind. But I’ve played really well the last few years in a lot of wind,” he said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know.”
If Funk is able to win Sunday, it will be his second straight win and third Champions Tour title in Hawaii in four starts. He’ll also be on his way to dethroning Irwin as the golf king of Hawaii.
“He’s got a way to go,” said Irwin, who has nine official and 12 overall victories in Hawaii. “I won’t let him. I’ll bushwhack him first.”
Divots: Irwin was asked by a fan to sign a baseball-type card Thursday that featured his name, but Graham Marsh’s photo. “We all look alike after a while, I guess,” Irwin said. … Peter Jacobsen withdrew from Turtle Bay because of a knee injury suffered at Hualalai. He was replaced by Walter Zembriski. … Bob Gilder will make his 95th straight Champions Tour start, the longest current streak. The last event Gilder missed was the 2004 Greater Hickory Classic.