Sophia Popov revelled in one of her “best rounds ever” after carding a one-under-par 70 to claim the clubhouse lead midway through day one of the AIG Women’s Open.
Popov recorded a nine-under 63 on her way to a second-placed finish in a Symetra Tour event last week, but felt her latest effort was at least as impressive given the difficult conditions at Troon.
The German, who only qualified a fortnight ago at the Marathon Classic, was the first player to make it to the clubhouse under par on Thursday, with strong, gusting winds having made life difficult throughout the day.
Remarkably, Popov’s excellent performance came after she had played just a single practice round. She only arrived at Troon on Tuesday after her Symetra Tour appearance in Arizona the previous week.
“It's a crazy turnaround going from 117 degrees Fahrenheit last week to this, which is just kind of brutal, cold and a lot of wind,” said Popov, whose only previous AIG Women’s Open appearance came back in 2011.
“But I think sometimes that also obviously reduces your expectations, and I think that's what it did for me and how I was able to play well.
“It honestly ranks as one of my best rounds ever to be honest. I shot nine-under last week, which score-wise is obviously a better score, but I shot that in perfect conditions and just regular target golf in Phoenix.
“When I was on the first tee box this morning, I said, ‘oh, my God, anything even remotely close to par today is going to be an incredible round. I said if I can keep it under five-over par then this is going to be great.
“I mean, just with the wind blowing in our faces on No. 1, I honestly didn't think I was going to come off the 18th green shooting one under par, so I'm extremely happy.”
Popov knows conditions are likely to be similarly tough, if not more challenging for Friday’s second round, with more gusts forecast along with likely rainfall.
“You never know how things are tomorrow and how brutal the weather is going to be,” she added. “No one can really prepare me for what's going to come tomorrow. It might go totally sideways.
“But I'm prepared for that because honestly this is British golf. Anything can happen at any point. Someone who's not playing very well today can be shooting really well tomorrow even in brutal conditions. So I think it's just keeping it together and knowing that anything can happen at any point, especially with what's coming tomorrow. I don't even know; I honestly hope that we can even go out with what they're saying in the forecast.
“But you know, these courses can take a lot, and the greens are not fast. So we are going to play in probably even more brutal conditions than today. It’s just nice to get ahead of the game, I guess.”