Sophia Popov, Ranked 304th, Wins Women’s British Open

TROON, Scotland — Sophia Popov marked her ball a few inches from the hole on the 18th green, pulled the brim of her cap over her face and began to cry in the arms of her caddie.

The realization had finally hit her. Against all odds, she was about to become a major champion.

Moments later and still wiping away tears, she tapped in the putt to complete a two-stroke victory at Royal Troon and another fairy-tale story at the Women’s British Open.

Ranked No. 304, Popov had never won a senior professional event. She lost her card on the L.P.G.A. Tour at the end of last year and only qualified for the British Open with a top-10 finish two weeks ago at the Marathon Classic in Ohio, which she was playing only because higher-ranked players could not attend because of Covid-19 restrictions.

This was just Popov’s fourth appearance at a major. And as she would later reveal in public for the first time, she has been bothered by health issues for the past six years, notably Lyme disease.

No wonder the emotions flowed after she shot three-under 68 to finish ahead of Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand, who shot 67, and became the first female golfer from Germany to win a major title. It is a life-changing victory, not least because the winner’s check of $675,000 was more than six times her career earnings before Sunday.

“There’s a lot of hard work behind this, a lot of struggles I went through, especially healthwise,” Popov, 27, said in the presentation ceremony.

“I had a lot of obstacles thrown in my way, so I’m glad I stuck with it. I almost quit playing last year — thank God I didn’t.”

On a rare still day on the links in southwest Scotland, Popov began with a three-stroke lead but drove into a bunker on the first hole and missed a 10-foot par putt.

She barely made a mistake after that.

Popov pumped her fist after rolling in a birdie putt from 8 feet at the second hole, then made another from a similar distance at No. 3.

Suwannapura, who also would have been an improbable winner with a ranking of No. 138, made four consecutive birdies from No. 4 to move within one stroke of the lead, but it was the closest she came.

Birdies by Popov at Nos. 15 and 16 were greeted with furious fist pumps and left her on the cusp. She held her nerve on the final two holes, parring No. 17 and then playing No. 18 cautiously to leave herself three putts to be champion.

She needed only two.

“It is an incredible story personally for me,” Popov said. “That’s why I think I broke down on the 18th hole, because it has been something I couldn’t have dreamed of just a week ago.

“It’s incredible that golf allows for these things to happen.” She added, “I pretty much had the week of my life.”

It was the second straight upset win at the Women’s British Open. Last year, the 20-year-old Japanese player Hinako Shibuno triumphed when playing her first event outside her native country.

This was the first women’s major of the pandemic-disrupted year. It was played without spectators at Troon because of coronavirus restrictions, with Popov arriving on Tuesday having played on the second-tier Symetra Tour last week.

Just three weeks ago, Popov was ranked No. 390 and pushing a trolley for her friend Anne van Dam at the Drive On Championship in the L.P.G.A.’s restart. She is now a major champion and feels her success can be an inspiration to others whose careers are in a slump.

“Of course there is an elite amount of players that are always there and in contention,” she said. “But there are so many other players out there who can make it in any given week, and I want them to have the confidence they can do it, too.”

No. 8-ranked Minjee Lee, who played with Popov in the final pairing, finished third at three under after a round of 69.

The seven-time major champion Inbee Park was the only other player to finish the tournament under par, a 66 leaving her at one under and in fourth place.

Source: Golf -

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