Sophia Popov will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon, after putting together a faultless third round highlighted by a moment of breathtaking brilliance.
World number 304 Popov, whose only previous appearance in this championship came as an amateur back in 2011, was the only player in the field not to drop a shot on Saturday as she carded a 67 – the joint-lowest round of the week - to reach four under.
The undoubted standout moment of Popov’s round came at the par-5 fourth, where she opted to take driver from the fairway for her second shot and hit an extraordinary approach to eight feet, setting up an eagle.
Popov, who caddied for Anne van Dam just three weeks ago at the LPGA Drive On Championship, held her nerve superbly thereafter to remain at the head of the leaderboard for the rest of the day.
Her putting was often outstanding, typified by a lengthy birdie conversion at 17 that extended her advantage, although she did miss an opportunity to stretch even further clear on the last after a wonderful drive and approach.
Australia’s Minjee Lee and Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand both went round in 69 to share second on one under. Suwannapura looked set to be closer to Popov, but she bogeyed the 18th after missing the green to the left.
If Popov’s spectacular eagle was a notable highlight on a day when lighter winds led to a notable increase in birdies, there were certainly several other shots to savour.
Lindsey Weaver, who has captured plenty of attention as one of five players operating without a caddie this week, produced a moment of magic at the 12th, chipping in to rescue a miraculous par after initially failing to make clean contact from atop a grassy bank.
Weaver ultimately signed for a 71, leaving her tied for fourth at one over along with the fast-finishing Caroline Masson (68) and Austin Ernst (72). Kristen Gillman, who birdied five of the first eight holes and almost made a hole-in-one at the Postage Stamp, is one further back after a three-under 68, along with Emily Kristine Pedersen (72) and Lydia Ko (72).
Katherine Kirk matched Popov’s 67 to get to three over, while Ariya Jutanugarn (70), Inbee Park (71) and Nelly Korda (73) are one further back.
Overnight leader Dani Holmqvist slipped back to five over courtesy of a 77, while past Champions Catriona Matthew and Georgia Hall saw their hopes of another AIG Women’s Open title fade as they each carded 74s to sit on eight and 10 over respectively.