Germany’s Sophia Popov claimed her first Major title as she held off a world class field of international challengers to win the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon in Scotland.
The 27-year-old, who came into the championship ranked 304th in the world and without a main tour victory, secured the winner’s cheque of £500,000 after a two-stroke success over the famous Ayrshire links.
Leading by three shots overnight, she held her nerve to close with a final round 68 to post a winning total of seven under par and become the first German to win a women’s Major championship.
Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura produced her best-ever Major display to finish runner-up on five under, with Minjee Lee from Australia third and the 2015 champion, Inbee Park, fourth.
Popov, who qualified for the tournament after bagging a top-10 at the Marathon Classic two weeks ago, can now enjoy a life-changing triumph after her superb play in Scotland.
An emotional Popov, whose previous appearance in the AIG Women’s Open was as an amateur in 2011, said of her brilliant win, “It feels amazing. There’s a lot of hard work behind it, and a lot of struggles that I went through the last six years, especially health-wise. I’m glad I stuck with it. I knew my game was in really good shape. I know anything’s possible and I think I took that belief with me to every round, but I never expected this. Obviously, I was nervous the whole round and I’m just so glad I could get it done.
“I guess it is an incredible story and I think, just personally for me, that’s why I broke down on the 18th hole because it’s been something I couldn’t have dreamed of just a week ago.”
During an entertaining duel on the front nine, it looked like Suwannapura was going to push Popov all the way. The German bogeyed the opening hole to immediately give the field hope, yet responded with back-to-back birdies to extend her lead to four. Suwannapura went on a brilliant run of four birdies from the 4th to close the gap to just a shot, but again Popov hit back with a birdie at the 6th.
Suwannapura faltered with dropped shots at the 11th and 13th on her way to a fine 67 and when Popov found birdies at the 15th and 16th, she was able to cruise to victory before breaking down in tears after her final bogey putt dropped.
Popov, who was caddying for her close friend Anne van Dam at the LPGA’s recent Drive On Championship, added: “The last two holes, I could take it in a little bit and I looked around and it’s just so beautiful, such an amazing course. I grew up playing the Women’s Amateur, the Girls’ Amateur and I honestly like the weather, except for I get really cold.
“Considering everything we have to deal with right now with COVID-19, the way we were taken care of was just incredible, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that. We’ve been extremely privileged.”
Lee was unable to make a sustained challenge, highlighting her round with an incredible up-and-down for par at the short 8th, the Postage Stamp, as she closed with a 69 for a three-under total. Park posted seven birdies in her 66 to share the lowest round of the week, with American Austin Ernst fifth on level-par and Japan’s Momoko Ueda sixth on one-over.
There was disappointment for the home contingent, however, with no players from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland finishing inside the top 30. The highest placed representatives were Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow and English pair Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Mel Reid, who all finished tied 39th on nine over par. 16 shots behind the winner. Georgia Hall finished a shot further back in 45th after a final round 71, her best of the week. Charley Hull’s admission earlier in the week that she didn’t enjoy links golf was borne out with a missed cut after rounds of 76 and 79.