Sophia Popov held her nerve superbly under immense pressure to record a life-changing win in the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon.
Three clear at the start of play on Sunday, world number 304 Popov could have been forgiven for feeling tense as she chased her maiden main-tour victory, not least when she bogeyed the first after finding a fairway bunker off the tee.
However, the 27-year-old bounced back superbly by birdieing three of the next four holes and she duly remained at the head of the field for the entire final round, ultimately signing for a 68 to triumph by two at seven under. The only other blemish on her card came when she played cautiously and sensibly on her way to a five at the par-4 18th, knowing she could afford to double-bogey and still win.
The champion’s accomplished performance was typified by the way she kicked ahead with the winning post in sight, recording back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th to effectively end the hopes of her rivals.
Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand and Australia's Minjee Lee finished second and third respectively at five and three under, but the day belonged to Popov, who caddied for close friend Anne van Dam on the LPGA Tour just three weeks ago and only qualified for her second AIG Women’s Open at the following week’s Marathon Classic.
Popov’s third-round 67 – highlighted by a remarkable eagle at the fourth - had been hugely impressive, but her performance on Sunday exceeded all expectations given what was at stake.
Having come into this event without an LPGA Tour card, Germany’s first female major winner can now celebrate a remarkable victory and a prize of $675,000 that comfortably dwarfs her previous career earnings.
Her stunning win also completes an unlikely double, three months after she triumphed at Troon North Golf Club in Arizona on the Cactus Tour. Back then, Popov could only have dreamed of winning a major. Those dreams have now become a reality.
Suwannapura's own performance in the final round was hugely impressive as the Thai shot 67 to claim outright second, while Lee posted a 69 for third place.
Inbee Park - the champion of 2015 at nearby Turnberry - carded a brilliant 66 on Sunday to take fourth. Park was seven over after 16 holes of her opening round, but ended the week at one under, a solitary shot ahead of Austin Ernst.
On the calmest day of the week by far, Momoko Ueda also took advantage of better scoring conditions to shoot 67, lifting her into sixth.