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Popovic holds off all challengers at PGA

(Photo: Bruce Young)
26 year old Daniel Popovic has been forced to change his plans for next week. A missed cut this week at the Australian PGA Championship would have had Popovic back at the Australasian Tour School at which he was the leading qualifier last year. Now Tour Schools at home may well a thing of the past for evermore.

Popovic's four shot victory today over Queenslander Rod Pampling and Victorian Anthony Brown at the Palmer Coolum Resort at Coolum today tells the story of a remarkable young man who gave every indication when leading the event early in the week that he believed in this outcome more than most.

Despite that bravado he was still shaking his head with the magnitude of what he had achieved as he began his press conference. "Unbelievable, there are no words to describe how good I feel," he said.

"2013 is going to be a lot different to what I planned two weeks ago," he added referring to the fact that he can now start thinking about opportunities to play in events such as the WGC Bridgestone Championship in Ohio rather than just where he might get an opportunity to play next.

"Two weeks ago I entered the Q School for next year for Australia thinking I would play just one tour because of my father's illness (cancer) but now next year is going to be bigger and better and hopefully he keeps pushing on as well.

And to help fund his trips to those exotic events he has a financial boost of $225,000 to help him on his way.

Popovic was forced to withstand a spirited final day challenge by a former runner-up in this event Rod Pampling. Pampling, who started the day four shots behind the leader, was so quickly out of the blocks that he shared the lead with Popovic by the time he had birdied his 6th consecutive hole at the 6th.

Pampling knew he had to make a fast start if he was to have any chance. "Well obviously the golf course sets up that way you have to get off to a quick start on the front nine, that's where the majority of your birdie chances come around. Obviously I was very fortunate, the par 5's they are certainly birdie able but it was certainly a great start with me right where I wanted to be."

"You know it was great, just keep it going. I just kept going shot for shot, not trying to get ahead of myself and what was the next hole and just waiting for the next hole. It was getting pretty gutsy out there and there were some pins that I knew not to go near so I just kept them away and obviously I had to chip a few of them but that was fine, I wasn't too worried about that, I knew there were a few sucker pins out there so I just kept away.

"Every time I looked there he wasn't going anywhere, I saw his game on Sunday last week (when they played together in Sydney)and he was very solid off the tee."

Pampling gained the lead outright when Popvic made a mess of the 8th. A double bogey there could well have seen the demise of Popovic but he saw it differently.

" I stood up onto the next tee and I said, "˜alright, you are not out of this tournament, if you can stay calm, stay focussed "“ you can do this, said the winner. "I just kept backing myself, I never doubted myself after it, I just kept saying you can do this, you can do this.

"Even walking down the par 3 where I pulled it left, the eleventh hole, I pulled it left and it was in a terrible position in there. I knocked it way past; if you asked me that, three-four years ago when I did doubt myself, I wouldn't have made that putt coming back. But I probably told myself about 30 times while I was walking up to that ball,' you can make it, you can make it'. I just kept instilling that confidence into myself."

Popovic and Pampling traded blows with Pampling one ahead playing the 16th. A poor tee shot there found the rough and from there he found the fairway bunker short of the green. The resultant bogey had he and Popovic were tied in the lead at 15 under par but when Pampling would also bogey the 17th the gap was two.

The lead became all but insurmountable when Popovic birdied the 17th and Pampling found the water at the last, the final margin four shots over Pampling and Brown.

Popovic played great respect to the man he stood up to and defeated down the stretch of this significant title. "He's (Pampling) a fantastic guy, he is an inspiration as well and I said that about his round last week.

"The way he played in that wind (they played together at the Australian Open) was amazing and I said it to him after the round, "˜mate that was inspirational, the way you carried yourself around the golf course' and the way that he plotted himself, like putting himself in positions to get close to pins and what not, his ball striking, putting driving "“ everything about his game that day was amazing, apart from two blunders late in the round but that was probably the best golf I have ever seen."

Anthony Brown was yet another surprise performer in what is likely to be the final staging of the event at the Palmer Coolum Resort. Brown finished in a tie for 2nd with Pampling and the $106,000 he earns for his share of the runner-up position is by far the biggest payday of his career.

Geoff Ogilvy and Brad Kennedy tied for 4th, Ogilvy recovering from an early bogey to put together yet another good finish at the Robert Trent Jones designed layout.

Marc Leishman recorded the best final round of the day (a 67) to move through the field and claim a share of 8th.

And so where to now for the PGA Championship?

Eleven years ago when the event was brought to the Sunshine Coast as a tournament struggling to compete in Australian professional golf there were those who said it would not work in regional Queensland. Eleven years later there is little doubt it is arguably the most popular event in Australian golf.

The visionaries then can pat themselves on the back with the growth of the event during its tenure at Coolum.

Several venues are now under serious consideration as the next home including Sanctuary Cove, Royal Pines and Hope island on the Gold Coast and possibly its former home Royal Queensland.

The self contained, relaxed nature of the Palmer Resort as a tournament venue will be hard to replicate however.

Palmer Colum Resort's new owner Clive Palmer has offered the PGA the opportunity to reconsider their position on moving the event but it appears there is little chance of that being the case as the PGA of Australia now appear fixated on the move.

Whatever happens in that regard there is little doubt that the events tenure at the Hyatt Regency Coolum and now the Palmer Coolum Resort has been a mutualistic one for both.

Perhaps though at the end of what has been a controversial and at times tumultuous week it is time to consider a young man who has had his life turned around by his own heroics.

Daniel Popvic returns to Melbourne tomorrow to greet his father Radi who is stricken with cancer.

"Because of what he is going through at the moment, I'll come home from a bad round of golf or something and say "˜golf is so hard' and what not but he just says "˜look what I'm going through, you've got nothing on what I'm dealing with' and it puts everything into perspective when I think about that.

"He wasn't over every single putt but when I doubted myself I got that thought in my head and that brought me back on track."

Perhaps there is a lesson in that for us all. This is just golf and maybe we all need to get back on track.


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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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