Germany’s Sophia Popov made history with a life-changing two-shot victory at the 2020 AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon, closing with a magnificent final round of 68 (-3) to finish at seven-under-par and claim the $675,000 first place prize.
Looking unfazed throughout, Popov, who lead by three-strokes overnight, came into the week ranked 304 on the Rolex Rankings and becomes the first German to win a women’s major championship and the highest ranked player to capture the historic championship.
She joins an illustrious list of champions including Georgia Hall, Annika Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew.
Popov said, “It is an incredible story, something I could not dream of a week ago. It is incredible that golf allows these things to happen and as one of 144 players this week, I just happened to have the week of my life. It is probably the best golf I have ever played.”
Three weeks ago the 27-year-old could never have dreamt of this moment as she played the role of caddie at the LPGA Drive On Championship for best friend Anne Van Dam and only qualified for this championship courtesy of a T9 finish a week later. A T2 finish in Arizona last week on the Symetra Tour gave her some confidence but no one predicted this, least of all Popov.
“Everyone said, how are you playing in Phoenix the week before The Open? I said, you know, my focus this year was still the Symetra Tour and that was more important to me as far as the Money List goes,
and I said, I’m going to stick with the schedule that I had. The AIG Women’s Open to me was a bonus and I got here on Tuesday, and I said I know my game is in really good shape and anything’s possible and I think I took that belief with me to every round but I never expected this.”
Popov, who had her boyfriend on the bag, stumbled initially with a bogey at the first hole but immediately bounced back with gains on Nos. 2,3 and 6, as Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura reeled her in with four consecutive birdies from the 5th hole.
Keeping in front by one, Popov took control on the back-nine, helped by a pair of Suwannapura bogeys, and stamped her authority on the tournament with a crucial par save from 10ft on the par four 11th hole before making birdies on the 15th and 16th to take her to eight-under-par.
Holding back the tears on the 18th green, Popov defied the odds and triumphed against a world-class international field and, despite a closing bogey, was overwhelmed when her fellow professionals stormed the green with champagne.
“I’m glad I didn’t think about the prize money going down the 18th hole but I was a lot calmer than I thought I would be throughout the day. When I hit the green on the 17th, that is where the tension came in.”
Reflecting on the victory, Popov continued, “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, and I’m just glad I was able to overcome everything and just keep my head in it. I think we are going to have a thorough celebration at the hotel, social distanced of course. But as soon as I get home, it will be a little more extensive.”
Thailand’s Suwannapura recorded her highest major finish, ending the tournament in solo second after a round of 67 (-4), followed closely in third by Australia’s Minjee Lee, who closed with a 69 (-2).
Seven-time major winner and former AIG Women’s Open champion down the road at Turnberry, Inbee Park was a further two stroke back in solo fourth and threatened to play a bigger role in the early afternoon with five birdies on the front nine. Unable to replicate that form on the back nine, Park made two further birdies and bogey on the 12th to shoot a final round 66 (-5).
Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen increased her lead in the Race to Costa Del Sol rankings with a T11 finish, she is more than 75 points ahead of her nearest rival, Azahara Munoz, who jumped up from fourth place, courtesy of a T39 finish.
Spoils as the top Brit were shared between Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow and Englishwomen Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Mel Reid who finished T39.