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    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. More

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    An Unlikely Leader Emerges at Wind-Swept Women’s British Open

    TROON, Scotland — As if Royal Troon isn’t playing hard enough for the world’s top female golfers this week, Dani Holmqvist is going around the wind-swept Scottish links carrying a nagging back injury from a cart crash in 2018.It is not stopping the Swedish golfer, who leads the Women’s British Open after two rounds.On another tough day when first-round leader Amy Olson shot an 81 — 14 strokes worse than Thursday — and stars like Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson and defending champion Hinako Shibuno missed the cut, Holmqvist shot a 1-under-par 70 in windy morning conditions to be the only player under par after 36 holes.Her two-day total of 141 left Holmqvist a stroke ahead of Austin Ernst of the United States (70) and Sophia Popov of Germany (72). The rest of the 144-strong field were over par for a tournament being played without spectators and in an isolated environment on the southwest coast due to the pandemic.Holmqvist, 32, has seemingly come out of nowhere, after having missed the cut in 13 of the 20 events she played since November 2018, when the golf cart in which she was riding at the Blue Bay event on the LPGA Tour lost control and slammed into a wall. The crash resulted in a badly inflamed facet joint in Holmqvist’s back that has required multiple injections and regular rehab.“It’s a long process and very tedious,” she said. “It’s an everyday thing.”Capturing a first major title — indeed, a first professional win at the senior level — will not be easy, and not just because of how difficult and long Troon is playing in winds that often reach 50-m.p.h.Two strokes behind Holmqvist at 1-over-par are former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (71) and current No. 8-ranked Minjee Lee, who shot 69 to tie for the lowest round on Friday. A further shot back is No. 4-ranked Nelly Korda after her round of 72.“We were like, ‘Are you scared over 1-footers, too, with this wind?’ Korda said, referring to a conversation she had with playing partner Georgia Hall, the 2018 champion. ”Because we were like shaking over it with wind and the gusts.”After what she described as the best ball-striking round of her career to shoot 67 on Thursday, Olson came back to earth with a 10-over round that included six bogeys on her first 10 holes before double-bogeys at Nos. 11 and 14.The American parred her way home to limit the damage and won’t feel out of it at 6-over.It has proved to be a week to forget for Lexi Thompson, who shot 78 on Thursday and 75 on Friday to miss the cut by two strokes. She avoided the ignominy of being penalized for using the head of her club to push away long grass from her ball on the 16th hole of her first round.“Following a discussion between chief referee David Rickman and the player prior to her signing her scorecard,” the R&A said in a statement Friday, “it was determined that, although the player had moved a growing natural object behind her ball, it had returned to its original position.“Therefore, the lie of the ball was not improved and there was no breach of Rule 8.1.” More

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    Masters Will Play Without Augusta’s Famed Roars

    The Augusta National Golf Club announced Wednesday that the 2020 Masters Tournament, postponed from its traditional April date to Nov. 12 to 15, will be held without patrons or guests in attendance. The decision was a response to the coronavirus pandemic and came after many other fixtures of the men’s professional golf schedule, including last week’s P.G.A. Championship, the first major championship of this unconventional year, previously were conducted without spectators.The Masters’ decision — the last of the major men’s tournaments to say it would proceed without fans — could signal that the remaining tournaments this season will follow suit. The United States Golf Association announced two weeks ago that the United States Open, which will be held at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., from Sept. 17 to 20, would not have fans in attendance. And the British Open was canceled earlier this year.The PGA Tour said that its events will not host fans through the end of this current season, which concludes on Sept. 7. The first two events of the next PGA Tour season, the Safeway Open and Sanderson Farms Championship, have also already announced that they will not have fans on site during their September and October dates.“Throughout this process, we have consulted with health officials and a variety of subject matter experts,” said Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National. “Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November are simply too significant to overcome.”Patrons is the preferred term of a club beholden to many traditions that distinguish it from other men’s golf tournaments. Clifford Roberts, a co-founder of the club and its chairman from 1931 to 1976, prioritized the so-called patron experience from the moment the Masters Tournament was first held in 1934. Many of those initial concerns for spectators, like the minute attention to sight lines, affordable concessions prices and on-course scoreboards, still persist at the Masters.“Even in the current circumstances, staging the Masters without patrons is deeply disappointing,” Ridley added. “The guests who come to Augusta each spring from around the world are a key component to making the Tournament so special. Augusta National has the responsibility, however, to understand and accept the challenges associated with this virus and take the necessary precautions to conduct all aspects of the Tournament in a safe manner.”Few other golf tournaments have a widely known phrase to describe the fan presence, but the “Augusta roars” — the resounding crowd response that echoes around the course — have become synonymous with the Masters perhaps as much as the blooming azaleas. Peter Kostis, who broadcast the tournament with CBS for decades, pondered whether the club would break with tradition and change the course’s set up, which is usually laid out in such a way as to provoke those crowd reactions.The Coronavirus OutbreakSports and the VirusUpdated Aug. 12, 2020Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:The Big Ten and Pac-12 college conferences abandoned their plans to play football this fall.Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was optimistic about the baseball season. “We can continue to do this in a way that’s safe,” he said.The plans for the Champions League, European soccer’s showpiece competition, seem to account for every possibility. But the coronavirus is asking hard questions.Speaking at this week’s Wyndham Championship, the golfer Brandt Snedeker, who has three top-10 results in 11 Masters starts, described how spectators define the tournament’s famed atmosphere.“Part of the allure and majesty of Augusta National is the patrons. You have that electricity from the first moment on Thursday morning to the last putt goes in on Sunday night on every hole,” he said. “It’s not just on the back nine; it’s on every hole.”Augusta National also canceled this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship, two events conducted around Masters week each year.The club clarified that tickets for the 2020 tournament would be honored for 2021’s event, scheduled for next April. The ticketing process for the 2021 tournament had also already commenced, and the club said it would be communicating directly with ticket holders and applicants for next year’s tournament.The club did not announce who, specifically, would fall outside the definition of “patrons and guests” and be permitted on the grounds during tournament week. The player field for the 2020 Masters was already finalized and closed the week before the original April date. More