Popovic claims Australian PGA
Coolum - Rookie Australian Daniel Popovic completed a golfing fairytale on Sunday, leading from start to finish to claim the Australian PGA by four shots.
Popovic held his nerve over the closing holes as fellow Australian Rod Pampling imploded with bogeys on 16 and 17 and a double bogey on 18 to drop four shots and surrender the lead after a late charge.
Pampling finished tied for second with another Australian Anthony Brown, one shot clear of former US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy and Brad Kennedy.
The 26-year-old Popovic won the Australian qualifying school last December but took time away from golf after his father was diagnosed with cancer.
But his dad urged him to return to golf during the year and he repaid that faith with a superb performance over the four days, shooting eight under on the opening day and following that with three more sub-par rounds for a dominant victory.
"2013 is going to be completely different to what I had planned two weeks ago," a delighted Popovic, who is now guaranteed a start in the Bridgestone International on the US PGA tour, said.
"Two weeks ago I entered Q School for Australia again and was thinking I would just play one tour next year because of my father's illness.
"But now next year is going to be bigger and better, and hopefully he keeps pushing on as well."
Popovic looked composed throughout his final round at the Palmer Coolum Resort, defying predictions that he would crack under the pressure.
"I knew if I had the same mentality that I had the other three days that I was going to be fine," he said. "And I did, I turned up today and was more confident than any of the other days."
Two-time US PGA tour winner Pampling, who started the round four shots behind Popovic, had looked to be heading for victory when he birdied his first six holes to move to 15 under the card.
Popovic got the outright lead back when he got to 16-under, but then double bogeyed the par three eighth when he put his tee shot into the bushes to the left of the green.
Pampling birdied the 12th to open a two shot lead and looked in control until his spectacular meltdown over the final three holes.
Playing in the group ahead of Popovic, Pampling said he knew his younger rival had birdied the 17th by the cheers of the crowd, so he had to go for it on the difficult 18th.
"I hit a great tee shot down the 18th and then I heard the cheers and I knew Daniel had made birdie," he said.
"That double bogey at the end was the result of me trying to be aggressive. It wasn't a great shot to hit (when he put his second into the water), but I had to try and make birdie to put some pressure on him."
Last week's Australian Open winner Peter Senior, playing in the last group with Popovic and Brown, faded badly on the final day as he shot a five-over 77 to finish in 27th place
However, former British Open winner Darren Clarke had a four-under 68 to finish at nine-under for the tournament, co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the Tour of Australasia, and climb up the leaderboard to equal eighth.
Scores after the final round of the OneAsia co-sanctioned US$1.25m Australian PGA at the par-72 Palmer Coolum Resort course on Sunday (Australia unless stated):
272 - Daniel Popovic 64-70-69-69
276 - Rod Pampling 71-67-69-69, Anthony Brown 73-68-64-71
277 - Geoff Ogilvy 67-69-72-69, Brad Kennedy 69-68-70-70
278 - Richard Green 71-68-70-69, Nathan Green 72-71-66-69
279 - Marc Leishman 69-70-73-67, Steven Bowditch 70-67-74-68, Darren Clarke (NIR) 70-69-72-68, John Senden 73-69-69-68, James Nitties 70-72-68-69, Michael Wright 70-73-66-70, Stephen Dartnall 68-72-68-71, Mathew Goggin 71-66-70-72, Matthew Griffin 69-67-70-73
280 - Adam Crawford 70-71-70-69, Jason Kang (USA) 70-69-71-70, Matthew Millar 73-66-70-71, Brendan Jones 73-67-67-73
281 - Peter O'Malley 73-68-71-69, Greg Chalmers 72-69-68-72
282 - Kim Do-Hoon (KOR) 73-71-68-70, Terry Pilkadaris 70-74-69-69, Jason Scrivener 68-75-69-70, Kurt Barnes 74-65-71-72
283 - Zhang Xinjun (CHN) 67-67-74-75, Peter Senior 68-70-68-77
286 - Park Ju-Hyuk (KOR) 77-67-73-69
287 - Cao Yi (CHN) 73-71-72-71
288 - Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 76-68-70-74
290 - Choi Joon-Woo (KOR) 74-69-78-69
293 - Park Hyo-Won (KOR) 71-73-74-75
294 - Choo Tze-Huang (SIN) 67-75-75-77
305 - Pravee Visalkt (THA) 74-71-76-84, Li Xinyang (CHN) 72-73-78-82