‘Yikes!’ Sophia Popov’s career-low 64 paces field at Pelican


BELLEAIR, Florida – Sophia Popov wasn’t really thinking about her birdie streak during Round 1 of the Pelican Women’s Championship until she saw her scorecard on a leaderboard.

“Yikes!” Popov said of the five-birdie run. “That was better than anticipated.”

The 2020 AIG Women’s British Open champion holds a two-shot lead over Ashleigh Buhai after posting a career-low 6-under 64 at the newly renovated Pelican Golf Club.

Popov relished the challenge of the wind and the creativity the Donald Ross-designed greens allow.

“I think mentally I’ve never felt as freed up as I do now,” she said.

“You know, I don’t know if that’s from winning the tournament or just overall just having more fun out here. Having obviously an exemption for the next couple years just frees up the swing a little bit, my mindset, I can be a little bit more aggressive, and I think I just took advantage of that.”

PELICAN WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPLeaderboard

The player who had only Symetra Tour status at the start of the year played alongside World No. 1 Jin Young Ko in her first round back on the tour since November 2019.

“I’ve watched her play a lot of golf. … on TV,” said Popov.

“I was honestly just excited, maybe fan-girling just a little bit.”

Ko opened with a 2-over 72, noting that she was confused by the grain on the greens. The 2019 LPGA Player of the Year made her first birdie on the LPGA in 2020 on the 10th hole. Popov had posted six on the day by then, thanks to a hot putter.

“Looks easy,” said Ko, when asked for her impression of Popov’s game.

Ally McDonald, who played alongside Popov and Ko, broke through with her first victory in Georgia last month at the LPGA Drive On Championship and continued her hot streak with a 3-under 67, good for a share of third. McDonald was hoping to be introduced as an LPGA champion for the first time on Thursday but apparently the starter didn’t have it in his notes.

“I was disappointed,” said McDonald. “I was anticipating hearing that. So I got the Solheim Cup, which was great, but I kind of waited a second to tee my ball up. Never heard it, but it’s just whatever.”

Sei Young Kim, the KPMG Women’s PGA champion, also holds a share of third at 3 under. Brooke Henderson headlines a group at 2 under.

“It’s definitely a tricky golf course,” said Henderson. “You got to be careful out there. It can kind of jump up and bite you if you’re not paying attention, and especially with how windy it was earlier today. I feel like we really had to judge the conditions really well.”

Popov said the pinch-me moments are less frequent these days, though she does enjoy reminiscing when people ask questions. Royal Troon’s life-changing victory is never too far from her thoughts, however, considering where she keeps the trophy.

“The trophy is on my nightstand,” said Popov, smiling. “Right where it’s supposed to be.”



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