After a masterful bogey-free 67 on Saturday, Germany’s Sophia Popov sits at -4 and holds a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round of the AIG Women’s Open, the first major of the 2020 LPGA Tour season following a five-month shutdown due to the coronavirus. Australian Minjee Lee and Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura are tied for second at -1.
Popov made her move early on Saturday at Royal Troon, hitting driver off the deck from 258 yards at the par-5 fourth to reach the green in two and holing the 15-foot eagle putt.
“I hit it in the perfect spot and it just curled around and I was able to make that putt which was nice, because I felt like that made up for the opportunities that I had missed previously,” said Popov, who just missed out on keeping her LPGA Tour card at 2019 LPGA Q-Series. “Got me going into my round and gave me a little bit of a confidence boost for the rest of the round.”
Popov added lengthy birdie putts at 12 and 17 to pull three strokes clear of the field, hitting all 18 greens in a round that tied for the week’s low 18-hole score.
“I'm just very happy that I was able to stay bogey-free and make some really good up-and-downs and some clutch putts for par,” said Popov. “Obviously it was definitely more than I could have hoped for today, but I did make the key putts and shots when I had to, and I'm proud of them.”
Lee, a five-time LPGA Tour winner, had three birdies and one bogey for a 2-under 69 on Saturday, but rued birdie opportunities at 16 and 17 that somehow did not drop.
“I feel like I can maybe play a little bit more aggressively if the wind doesn't blow as much,” said Lee, who has three top-11 finishes at the AIG Women’s Open. “Maybe I can hole a couple putts out there.”
Like Lee, Suwannapura carded a 2-under round on Saturday, making four birdies to two bogeys. A bogey at the closing hole dropped her from solo second into a tie, but the two-time LPGA Tour winner was more than happy with her round.
“I didn't expect that I'm going to have a good score today,” said Suwannapura, who has never missed the cut in her six championship appearances. “Even though it's not raining, it's still pretty windy out there, and then you can't really expect any good scores every day here. Just try to do your best out there and play golf.”
Germany’s Caroline Masson joins Americans Lindsey Weaver and Austin Ernst in a tie for fourth at +1. Two-time major champion Lydia Ko of New Zealand is tied for fifth at +2, joined by American Kristen Gillman and Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen.
Second-round leader Dani Holmqvist shot a 6-over 77 on Saturday and dropped from -1 to +5, in a tie for 19th.
WITH A WIN
Sophia Popov would be eligible to accept immediate LPGA Tour Membership; she was an LPGA Tour rookie in 2015, but lost her card after the 2019 season
Popov would become the first player from Germany to win a women’s major championship
Minjee Lee would earn her first major title, becoming the fourth player from Australia to win a women’s major championship, joining Hannah Green, Jan Stephenson and Karrie Webb
With the $670,000 winner’s prize, Minjee Lee would move to $7,030,619 in career earnings and become the 37th player in LPGA Tour history to cross the $7 million threshold
Jasmine Suwannapura would become the second player from Thailand to win a major championship, joining Ariya Jutanugarn
A win tomorrow at the AIG Women’s Open would cap a whirlwind month for Sophia Popov, who lost her LPGA Tour Membership following the 2019 season and now has full 2020 status on the Symetra Tour. Popov started the LPGA Tour’s resumption by caddying for her best friend Anne van Dam four weeks ago at the LPGA Drive On Championship. The following week, Popov tied for ninth at the LPGA Tour’s Marathon LPGA Classic in Ohio, where she earned one of 10 qualifying spots for this week’s major.
Popov then flew to Arizona, where she tied for second at the Symetra Tour’s Founders Tribute at Longbow Golf Club. She finally traveled to Scotland on Monday and only had one practice round on Royal Troon before teeing it up in Thursday’s first round.
“When I came over here, I said to, me, the British was a bonus event because technically it was never on my schedule this year. So I was just excited and happy to be playing at all, and I said, you know, one practice round and let's get this going, and expectations were definitely not very high,” said Popov, who won three times on the Cactus Tour while the LPGA and Symetra Tours were suspended due to the coronavirus. “I do feel very comfortable out there. At the same time, I know where my game is at and I know that it is in a good spot, so I can be aggressive with my shots and you know, keep those expectations low, but I definitely know what I'm capable of, and so keep that in the back of my head.”