Seven rounds over five days. The competitor in Sophia Popov wanted to win. The human in her quickly relinquished the sting of a runner-up finish at the inaugural Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play Hosted by Shadow Creek when she was greeted by the loving embrace of family, especially the beaming smiles of her three nieces, walking off the 17th green.
“I honestly couldn't have hoped for a better week,” said Popov. “Yeah, I could have topped it off with a win, but pretty sure when I look at them, they're proud regardless. I'm just lucky to be able to hug my nieces. She [Liv] said it was really boring today, so obviously it wasn't that important to her. Priorities are different, and that's what I love them for. I'm a very, very lucky person with the family I have.”
Facing a 2-down deficit on 17 tee, Popov needed to win the hole to take the championship match to No. 18. Ally Ewing dunked her first shot in the water off the tee then found the greenside bunker. The door was open for Popov, who ended up in the same bunker before chipping over the green and failing to get up and down.
The fatigue of 71 competitive holes over the last two days was evident, not to mention the five days of grueling competition between round robin and bracket play.
“I think ability-wise, I had plenty to win today. I hit some shots out of fatigue and made some mistakes, because I was definitely tired from all the rounds that I've played and having to go into overtime [with Inbee yesterday] and maybe playing a few more holes than Ally did,” Popov said. “There were a couple key moments where I could have turned it around and she made clutch shots. She played great and is a deserving winner.
“Every time I thought I have a chance, she kind of said, ‘Nope,’ and that’s the thing with match play.”