Popovic closes out shocking victory at Australian PGA Championship

Daniel Popovic at the Australian PGA Championship
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Daniel Popovic, who nearly quit golf earlier this year to care for his seriously ill father, led or had a share of the lead every day of the Australian PGA Championship.
By
Dennis Passa
Associated Press

Series: Other Tour

COOLUM, Australia -- First-year PGA Tour of Australasia player Daniel Popovic completed an improbable start-to-finish victory at the Australian PGA Championship on Sunday, shooting a 3-under-par 69 for a four-stroke victory.

Fellow Australian Rod Pampling birdied the first six holes to take the lead after nine holes, but bogeys on 16 and 17 and a double bogey on the 18th dropped him back into a tie for second after a 69. Anthony Brown shot 71 to finish level with Pampling.

AUSTRALIAN PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

The Australian PGA Championship is the third and final event of the annual Australian 'Triple Crown" that also includes the Australian Masters and Australian Open.

Popovic, who nearly quit golf earlier this year to care for his seriously ill father, finished with a 16-under-par total of 272 and led or had a share of the lead since Thursday. He won the qualifying school tournament last year but had made only seven of 12 cuts on the Australian circuit in 2012.

"I just can't believe this is happening," Popovic said as he walked up the 18th fairway with his ball safely on the green. "I am just going to try to enjoy this now."

Moments later, he tapped in for par, did a left-handed fist pump and doffed his cap to the crowd.

"It has just hit me all over suddenly," he said after accepting the winner's check for $225,000. "I was just so confident, and that never left me. Sure I made several stupid mistakes, but I bounced back quite nicely."

Pampling looked set for his first win since the 2008 Australian Masters -- he has two wins on the PGA Tour, the last in 2006 at the Bay Hill Invitational.

This year, he finished just outside the top 125 -- 127th place -- to lose his PGA Tour card, then failed to egain it at Q-School two weeks ago, meaning he will have only conditional status next year in the United States.

Two errant tee shots on 16 and 17 led to bogeys, then his approach to 18 went into the water, all but handing the win to Popovic.

Geoff Ogilvy, trying to be among the top three here to ensure he'd finish inside the top 50 in year-end world rankings and thereby get a Masters berth next year, almost got there. He shot 69 Sunday and finished tied for fourth, just one stroke away.

Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland finished with a 68 for a 4-under total of 279 and tied for eighth, his best finish at any tournament since winning the British Open in 2011.

Peter Senior, who came from behind to win the windswept Australian Open on the final day last Sunday at The Lakes in Sydney, couldn't repeat the feat at Coolum. Playing in the final threesome of the day and trailing Popovic by three to start the round, Senior shot a 77 and finished 11 strokes behind.

Rory Sabbatini shot 74 Sunday and finished tied for 48th at even-par 288.

It seems the Australian PGA Championship might not be moving from the Palmer Coolum Resort after 11 years. The PGA of Australia said Sunday it will consider a revised offer from resort owner Clive Palmer to keep the event on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.

After wrangling with the billionaire mining magnate over signage and other sponsorship issues, PGA of Australia Chief Executive Brian Thorburn said this week that the tournament would shift next year to another course in Queensland state.

But Thorburn said on Sunday that the board of directors would next week consider a new offer from Palmer that could see the event remain at the player-favored resort, which has a 26-foot robotic dinosaur outside the clubhouse.

Palmer wants to add more than 100 other replica dinosaurs to the resort and create a theme park.