Germany’s Sophia Popov claimed a magnificent first major title as she held off international challengers to win the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon.
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 US$675,000 after a stunning two-stroke success over the famous Ayrshire links.
Leading by three shots overnight, she held her nerve to close with a final round three-under 68 to post a winning total of seven-under-par 277 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 AIG Women’s Open 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 [Lyme disease]. 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.”
After a challenging week of wet and windy conditions at the first women’s major of the year, Popov came out on top of a strong field representing 32 countries and featuring major champions, Solheim Cup stars and home favourites.
During an entertaining duel on the front nine, it looked like Suwannapura was going to push Popov all the way. The German bogied 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.
“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.” – Sophia Popov
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, the World No.8, 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.
“To be honest, Sophia played so well pretty much all day, and whenever she looked like she was going to make bogey, she would make a par putt, and she made a lot of birdies out there. I don't think anybody could have beaten her today,” Lee said.
“At the beginning of the week, if you said I would have finished third in a major championship, I'd take it any day. I was a little bit disappointed in my ball-striking, but other than that I had a pretty solid week.”
Park posted seven birdies in a round of five-under 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. American Ally McDonald finished in style with her own 66, climbing 35 places on the final day for a six-over total.
The AIG Women’s Open made its debut on the prestigious links of Royal Troon, which has hosted The Open on nine occasions, most recently in 2016 when Sweden’s Henrik Stenson triumphed.