Popovic's blistering start at Aust PGA

26 year old Victorian, Daniel Popovic, has a two shot lead at the Australian PGA Championship at the Palmer Coolum Resort on the Sunshine Coast, his afternoon round of 64 establishing that break over Scott Strange who played in the slightly easier morning conditions.

"Today was some of the best golf I have played in my life," said the leader. "I surprised myself with the confidence I had in the shots I was hitting.

"I didn't really know what score I was on through the middle of the round. I knew I was holing putts and that I was under par but it was not until saw a leaderboard at the 10th that I realised I was in the lead.

If Popovic wasn't able to go on and capitalise on his great start this week he has still gained a lot out of the week. On Tuesday he played a practice round with Geoff Ogilvy and actually arrived at the course at 6.40 to make sure he didn't miss the chance to play with his fellow Victorian after that meeting had been set up by a friend.

"The 18 holes I played with Geoff was one of the best experiences of my life," said Popovic after his round.

Popovic earned his PGA Tour of Australasia card just twelve months ago when he was the medallist at the Tour School and has gone about establishing himself in the professional ranks with top tens in two Tier 2 events in Australia.

He had played the Alps Tour in Europe in 2011 but he did not do well, returning home with the realisation that he needed to get serious about his approach to his profession. The result of a few changes he made at that point led to his success at the Tour School but in 2012 he would only play 12 or so events due to his father being struck down with cancer.

"It shook me around a lot and it still does but I find a lot of strength in him." he said referring to his father Radi who had introduced him to the game.

When asked if there was any possibility of his ill father coming up to watch him play this weekend he was unsure but added," I would like nothing more than my Dad to be here with me having a chance to win."

"I have been hitting it good for a long time," said Popovic when asked to explain the great round. "I played really well at the NSW PGA at Mt Broughton where I finished 6th and took a lot of confidence into the Australian Open. It didn't work out last week but I still felt confident coming into this week.

"I have also changed putters this week. I watched Ian Poulter at the Australian Masters and Luke Donald and decided I needed a change of putters so the guys at Callaway made one up for me."

West Australian Scott Strange is no stranger to contention at this venue. He has finished runner-up in the event previously and the put his improved showing down to a change of putters this week.

"I played Q School in Europe and didn't really hole many putts so I thought a change would be good instead of throwing it in the water.

Strange was asked how his game compared to that when he was winning. "If you watch the tournaments (that he won such as the Volvo China Open and the Wales Open ) I holed putts and if you are not holing putts then you are not figuring.

"As for me as a golfer overall however I think I am a completely different person now. Since those years a lot has happened in my life. I am a Dad now and we have our second child in January, I lost my sister to cancer, and a few other problems with my Mum and dad. It has just take a while to process all of that. I was in Europe for much of that time and it was hard to deal with stuff when you are a long way from home."

In a group at 5 under and three from the lead are OneAsia Tour players Zhang Xin Jun, Choo Tze-huang and former champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Ogilvy and his caddy Bussy had helped Popovic a lot during their practice round together on Tuesday. "I must have given him a good lesson," joked Ogilvy knowing that the leader was waiting in the wings for him to finish his media conference before taking centre stage himself. "But 8 under is a great score out there."

Ogilvy's round was encouraging as although he has played well enough this year he has not contended often. On a golf course where he won in 2008 and has regularly performed well, Ogilvy is a real threat.

The group at 4 under includes Jason Scrivener, Ryan Haller, Stephen Dartnall and last week's Australian Open Champion and two time winner at Coolum Peter Senior.

47 players are under par at the completion of day one reflecting a golf course that while exposed to the flukey breezes had been softened by the overnight rain. The wind increased through the morning but by late afternoon it had died down a little.

Pre tournament favourite John Senden finished with a round of 1 over par 73 as did Robert Allenby and last week's runner-up Brendan Jones. They are not yet out of it but they will need to improve significantly tomorrow.

The defending champion Greg Chalmers finished at even par.

Greg Norman played just two holes this morning before withdrawing with apparent food poisoning. He was in bad shape when escorted from the golf course and a Doctor was called to administer medication. Norman spent the rest of the day in bed.

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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