It was a feel-good situation for a guy who’s had precious few this year. And for Daniel Popovic, it lasted for all four rounds of the Australian PGA.
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First-year Australasian PGA tour player Popovic, whose father is suffering from incurable bone cancer, completed an improbable wire-to-wire victory at the Palmer Coolum resort, shooting a 3-under-par 69 on Sunday for a four-stroke victory.
The 26-year-old Popovic, ranked outside the top 1,000, nearly quit golf earlier this year when he learned of his father’s terminal illness, solely to be close to him and his family outside Melbourne in Victoria state.
Instead the player who only made seven of 12 cuts in his first year on the Australasian Tour collected $225,000 on Sunday — more than $200,000 above his previous tour earnings.
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.
Popovic finished with a 16-under total of 272 and led or had a share of the lead since Thursday.
”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. ”I was just so confident, and that never left me. Sure I made several stupid mistakes, but I bounced back quite nicely.”
Popovic, who will now have an invitation to the PGA Tour’s Bridgestone Invitational, received a phone call from Greg Norman after his media conference. Norman stayed around to watch some of Popovic’s round on Friday despite pulling out of the tournament after two holes on Thursday with food poisoning.
Said Popovic: ”2013 is going to be completely different to what I had planned. Two weeks ago, I entered Q-School for next year for Australia and was thinking I would just play one tour because of my father’s illness. But now next year is just going to be bigger and better, and, hopefully, he keeps pushing on as well.”
Pampling looked set for his first win since the Australian Masters in 2008 — 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 at qualifying school two weeks ago, meaning he will have only conditional status next year in the United States.
But 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.
”Disappointing . . . obviously, it’s been a long time since I have been in this situation,” Pampling said, adding that he was impressed with Popovic’s performance under pressure.
”You couldn’t look back in the form guide and say that he is good under the gun. … You certainly expected Danny to maybe fall back. From off the tee, he was phenomenal.”
Geoff Ogilvy, trying to be among the top three here to ensure he would finish inside the top 50 in year-end world rankings thereby get a Masters berth next year, almost got there. He shot 69 Sunday and finished tied for fourth, 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 wind-swept 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 may not be moving from the Palmer Coolum resort after 11 years. The PGA of Australia said Sunday it will consider a revised offer from the owner of the Palmer Coolum Resort to keep the event on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.
After wrangling with resort owner and billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer over signage and other sponsorship issues, the 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-favorite 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.