Sophia Popov claims 54-hole lead at AIG Women's Open

Sophia Popov

Less than two weeks ago, Sophia Popov's place in the AIG Women's Open field was not yet secure.

Now, with 18 holes to play, she holds a three-shot lead as she chases what would be her first professional win of any real significance.

The US-born German carded a blemish-free four-under 71 - including a fantastic eagle at the fourth - to hit the front at Royal Troon in the first women's major of this reshuffled season. Impressively, she hit every single one of her greens in regulation. 

That has put clear daylight between the 27-year-old and her nearest challengers, world No.8 Minjee Lee and Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand. Her fellow German, Caroline Masson, is a further two shots adrift in a tie for fourth with American duo Austin Ernst and Lindsey Weaver. 

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Popov, who plays on the Symetra Tour, caddied for her close friend Anne van Dam during the LPGA's first event back from lockdown at the Drive On Championship last month. She then went to the Marathon Classic, where she finished in a tie for ninth to secure one of the ten spots up for grabs in the Women's Open. 

Last wait, she maintained her good form, finishing runner-up in the Founders Tribute event on the Symetra Tour in Ariz.

A win at Royal Troon, however, would launch world No.304 Popov - a pro since 2014 - into a whole other stratosphere - and she knows it.

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"There are going to be a lot of nerves there [tomorrow], and I would be lying if it wasn't that's way, and also, I'd be very sad if it wasn't that way," said Popov. "That's why we play the sport. We do this in order to be in a position like I'm going to be in tomorrow. 

"It's something I've never been in, so we are just going to have to see how it goes and take it one shot at a time and just try to do my thing."

Popov credits Solheim Cup star van Dam - with whom she spent a lot of time during the COVID-19 lockdown - with giving her the belief that she has the qualities to succeed at the very highest level of the ladies' game.

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"I did realise when I caddied for her, I said, you know, there are certain things about my game where I see similarities and course strategy-wise," she added. "I think that helped me a lot. The next week, going into the next week, I thought about the course as a little bit more from a caddie perspective. I said, what is the smart decision to make here. You know, I'm someone who tends to be very aggressive. I go at pins. But do you have to be? No, not really. You can give yourself a lot of chances just with safer shots going for the middle of the green, and so definitely that helped me a lot.

"And I think just in general, Anne's positive energy, I think she's been a big influence on me the last like four or five months. Just keeping my head in it and basically telling me that I'm capable of doing this, and she's just been probably one."

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