ONEASIA     News     Tournament News     Popovic blitzes Coolum for two-shot lead

Popovic blitzes Coolum for two-shot lead

Daniel PopovicCOOLUM, Australia, Dec 13 - OneAsia rookie Daniel Popovic played the golf of his life on Thursday, firing an eight-under-par 64 for a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Australian PGA Championship, presented by Coca-Cola, at the Palmer Coolum Resort on the Sunshine Coast.

Former OneAsia Order of Merit winner Scott Strange shot a flawless 66 for sole second place, while Geoff Ogilvy, China's Zhang Xinjun and Singaporean Choo Tze Huang were all a shot further back.

The A$1.25 million tournament, the last on the OneAsia calendar for 2012, is also the finale for the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Popovic, 26, had nine birdies and a bogey around the 6,114-metre (6,686-yard) course, using a brand-new putter just 24 times on the green -- and rolling-in a few from the fringe as well.

Afterwards he revealed he had re-dedicated himself to golf after learning earlier this year that his father had terminal cancer. He said he was desperate for success before his dad passed away.

"It really shook me around a lot -- and it still sort of does when I think about it -- but I find a lot of strength in him with how he is fighting and how he really wants me to push forward with my golf, and I find happiness through him," he said.

"I mean you are unsure of when the actual day will come, but he is a strong man and a very stubborn man and I think he’ll be here for a little while longer."

Popovic, playing the course back-to-front, started with four birdies in-a-row -- including a monster 45-foot putt from off the green on the second. After going par-bogey-par, he then birdied the next five, before coming home with a series of routine pars.

"That was some of the best golf that I have ever played in my life and there were times there that I was even surprising myself at how confident I was with the way that I was hitting it," he said.

"I saw how good Ian Poulter had putted at the Australian Masters and how good that Luke Donald's stats were this year on the PGA Tour and I thought 'what the hell, these guys are unbelievable, why aren’t I using that putter?'"

Strange, 35, who lost his European tour card last month and expects to be playing a lot more on OneAsia in 2013, also credited a hot putter for his perfect round.

"I putted my best that I have," said Strange, a runner-up here in 2009 when he also won the Volvo China Open and OneAsia's Order of Merit.

"My game has been pretty good for the last few years, but I just haven't really scored, and when you are not scoring you are not figuring."

Strange has played mostly on the European tour since 2007, but has not got the results recently despite feeling on top of his game. Last month he failed to get through Q-School after finishing down the regular season money list.

"At Q-School I played pretty good and didn't roll too many putts in, and if I managed to roll putts in there I would have had my European card back," he said.

"But that is the nature of the beast; live by the sword, die by the sword."

Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open Champion and a winner here in 2008, had two eagles in his round -- both from off the green on par fives.

"I felt like I got away with it," he said.

"I mean the two eagles I had were a really long putt from off the green and a chip in, so I kind of snuck away with a couple today."

Zhang and Choo, who both turned professional only last year, played like seasoned veterans for their 67s.

"I made a couple of long putts and just gained momentum from there," said Choo, who had eight birdies and three bogeys.

"I got more and more confident with the way I was swinging the club and also the way I was putting. Every line I saw I had a good feeling that I would make it, and I didn't let doubt creep in. When you putt well, that makes your day."

Zhang led the tournament at six under at one stage before his only bogey of the day with three holes to play.

"I played very well today, but actually I'm carrying a bit of an injury and my shoulder was hurting coming into this tournament," he said.

Peter Senior, who won the Emirates Australian Open last week, continued where he left off with a 68 and a share of third place with Jason Scrivener, Ryan Haller and Stephen Dartnall.

Defending champion Greg Chalmers was level par for the day, while international visitors Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Rory Sabbatini from South Africa were two under and four over respectively.

With the OneAsia Order of Merit to be decided this week, three players still have a chance to snatch the title if they can win the championship.

Matthew Griffin is best placed after carding a 69 and Nick Cullen remains in the hunt after going level par, but Korean Park Sang-hyun (79) is probably out of it after a mid-round meltdown that saw him score 11 on the par-four 18th.