Som­er­set on course for crush­ing vic­tory

World No 304 holds nerve to claim Women’s Open ti­tle Ger­man wins £515,000 and ad­mits she nearly quit last year

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - At Taun­ton Glouces­ter­shire (76 & 14-3) trail Som­er­set (237 & 223-1) by 370 runs

Tom Abell and Tom Lam­monby hit un­beaten cen­turies as Som­er­set set Glouces­ter­shire an un­likely vic­tory tar­get of 385 on the sec­ond day of the Bob Wil­lis Tro­phy match.

A day to­tally dom­i­nated by the home side saw Glouces­ter­shire bowled out for 76 – 161 be­hind – from an overnight 13 for four, Craig Over­ton claim­ing four for 25 and Josh Davey three for 21.

Cap­tain Abell and Lam­monby then both fin­ished 101 not out af­ter an un­bro­ken sec­ond-wicket stand of 211 had guided their side to 223 for one when Abell de­clared, aware of the fore­cast of rain on the fi­nal two days. It was 20-year-old Lam­monby’s maiden first-class cen­tury to fol­low his maiden first-class wicket in Glouces­ter­shire’s first in­nings.

The vis­i­tors were left with a tricky eight overs to ne­go­ti­ate, los­ing Ben Charleswor­th, Chris Dent and Tom Lace be­fore clos­ing on 14 for three.

Davey had Charleswor­th caught be­hind with a ball that lifted and bowled Lace with the first de­liv­ery of the fi­nal over af­ter Over­ton had pinned Dent lbw. Only the weather would now ap­pear to stand be­tween Som­er­set and a third win from four Bob Wil­lis Tro­phy games.

The first fe­male to win a ma­jor at Troon, the first Ger­man of ei­ther gen­der to win a ma­jor on Bri­tish soil. The his­toric achieve­ments piled high for Sophia Popov yes­ter­day as she em­phat­i­cally be­lied her stand­ing as a golfer with­out any play­ing priv­i­leges on a main tour with a com­mand­ing vic­tory here at the AIG Women’s Open.

Af­ter­wards, Popov re­vealed that her in­abil­ity to break through al­most caused her to re­tire from the sport last year. It is fair to say, the 27-year-old made the cor­rect choice to per­se­vere. In the first six years of her ca­reer she amassed £103,000 in earn­ings. Popov has col­lected £515,000 for her last four days’ work in Ayr­shire.

Granted, we have seen shocks of this pro­por­tion in the male Open be­fore – most no­tably when Ben Curtis, the world No 396 stunned the globe at Sand­wich in 2003 – but what was most sur­pris­ing about Popov’s two-shot win was that it all seemed so com­fort­able for the player ranked 304th. Hav­ing grabbed the ad­van­tage af­ter four holes on Satur­day, she was never headed and barely trou­bled by ei­ther the links or her pur­suers.

Ayr­shire loves a ma­jor duel – the 1977 Open be­tween Tom Wat­son and Jack Nicklaus at nearby Turn­berry, the 2016 Open be­tween Hen­rik Sten­son and Phil Mick­el­son – and al­though the Thai, Jas­mine Suwan­na­pura, reeled off four suc­ces­sive birdies on the front half to get within one, Popov did not be­gin to look rat­tled, af­ter post­ing three birdies of her own on that first nine.

Some ex­perts will point to the ab­sence of crowds be­ing a boon for Popov, but with so much on the line, the ten­sion was still pal­pa­ble and she showed re­mark­able for­ti­tude to pull clear again. The birdie on the 15th was de­fin­i­tive. She skewed her drive but, from the heavy rough, per­formed a fine re­cov­ery be­fore hol­ing a 35-footer.

Maybe it was a tad for­tu­nate, but if one con­sid­ers that Popov recorded only one bo­gey in the 44 holes be­fore her ir­rel­e­vant fi­nal­hole five then it should be ap­par­ent that luck had noth­ing to do with this ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­play. She also birdied the 16th and at that point the fist pump said it was over, de­spite the gal­lant Suwan­na­pura birdieing the 16th and 17th.

A 68 gave Popov a seven-un­der to­tal with Suwan­na­pura – the twotime LPGA Tour win­ner, her­self ranked 134th – fir­ing a coura­geous 67 for out­right sec­ond and a cheque for £320,000. Popov’s tears poured be­fore she had even tapped in on the 18th. “I don’t know what to say, I can’t get any­thing out of my mouth,” she said af­ter join­ing the ex­clu­sive club of Martin Kaymer and Bern­hard Langer as Ger­man ma­jor-win­ners. “There’s a lot of hard work be­hind it, and a lot of strug­gles that I went through. I al­most quit play­ing last year, so thank God I didn’t.”

By the time she teed off at 1.45pm in chilly, damp con­di­tions – but, im­por­tantly, with very lit­tle wind – golf had al­ready learnt about the ar­du­ous jour­ney Popov, the for­mer Ladies’ Euro­pean Ama­teur cham­pion, had en­dured to take her three-shot 54-hole lead.

With­out one sea­sonal fin­ish in the top 100 of an LPGA Tour or­der of merit, Popov had no sta­tus on the US cir­cuit and with­out an en­try into the Drive On Cham­pi­onship, the Tour’s restart event in Toledo three weeks ago, she ac­tu­ally cad­died for her friend, Anne van Dam.

Much had also been made of the fact that Popov – born in Amer­ica

but brought up in Baden – had yet to win on an of­fi­cial tour. Yet while the ma­jor­ity of the game was in lock­down, she did pre­vail three times on the Cac­tus Tour – one of the only cir­cuits to con­tinue in the first months of the pan­demic – and with a ninth place at the Marathon Clas­sic two weeks ago duly earned her place in this field.

She also fin­ished sec­ond the pre­vi­ous Sun­day on the Symetra Tour, the feeder Tour to the LPGA Tour, and duly ar­rived in Troon on Tues­day as a dark horse, but qui­etly fan­cied by cer­tain tip­sters who backed her into 100-1. They are im­mensely shrewd judges, be­cause Popov, whose only pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ance in this ma­jor was as an ama­teur in 2011, clearly adores sea­side golf.

Aus­tralia’s Minjee Lee came third, with seven-time ma­jor win­ner In­bee Park record­ing her fourth top-five in this event, with her 2015 tri­umph, of course, stand­ing out. Park was one of the few Kore­ans to travel here and with her hus­band, Gi Hyeob Nam, on the bag the ex­pe­ri­ence was more than worth it.

Alas, not a sin­gle UK player fin­ished in the top 30, with the English pair of Jodi Ewart Shad­off and Mel Reid, as well as North­ern Ire­land’s Stephanie Meadow, the best-placed in a tie for 39th on nine over.

How­ever, this was still a mem­o­rable week for Bri­tish golf, and Bri­tish women’s golf in par­tic­u­lar. Just to get this ma­jor was an achieve­ment, but for Troon to stage its first ever Women’s Open made it that much more spe­cial.

Un­beaten cen­tury: Som­er­set bats­man Tom Lam­monby hit 101 not out yes­ter­day

Win­ning smile: Sophia Popov em­braces the Women’s Open tro­phy af­ter her his­toric win

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