Sophia Popov continued her love for Royal Troon as she opened up a commanding three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the AIG Women’s Open.

The 27-year-old German, making just her second appearance in the championship, heads a talented international field at the first women’s Major of the year. In more favourable conditions, with sunny spells and less wind, Popov matched the lowest round of the week with a four-under-par 67 to move to four- under after 54 holes.

The world number 304, who only qualified for the event through the Marathon Classic just two weeks ago, highlighted her bogey-free day with a brilliant driver off the fairway for an eagle at the par-5 4th and then a glorious 30-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th. Having won three times on the development Cactus Tour in the USA this year, Popov is now seeking her first Major title.

With overnight leader Dani Holmqvist struggling to a 77, Popov is three shots clear of Australian Minjee Lee and Jasmine Suwannapura from Thailand. Both Lee, the world number eight, and Suwannapura recorded impressive 69s to lead the chasing pack on one-under-par.

American duo Austin Ernst and Lindsey Weaver, helped by a miraculous chip in for par at the 12th, are two shots further back in a tie for fourth place at one-over-par, alongside another German, Caroline Masson.

New Zealander Lydia Ko, chasing her first win since 2018, recorded a double bogey at the 10th to damage her hopes and is with Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen and American Kristen Gillman at two- over. Gillman posted five birdies in a superb front nine – including a near ace at the 95-yard 8th, the Postage Stamp – before having to settle for a 68.

There was a notable move too from Australia’s Katherine Kirk, who stormed 30 places through the field after a four-under 67 to reach three-over. However, world number four Nelly Korda suffered at the short Postage Stamp, making a double bogey, as she fell to four-over.

The 2018 champion, Georgia Hall, rolled in three birdies in her first eight holes, but slipped to 10-over after a 74, while Scotland’s Catriona Matthew posted the same score as her hopes also faded, dropping to eight-over. Mel Reid went in the other direction as the Englishwoman signed for a 68 to reach six-over and is the leading British player going into the final 18 holes in Ayrshire.

Key Quotes

Sophia Popov, Germany

“There are going to be a lot of nerves there tomorrow and I would be lying if it wasn’t that way. That’s why we play the sport. We do this in order to be in a position like I’m going to be in. Yeah, it’s definitely a position I’ve never been in, so we are just going to have to see how it goes, take it one shot at a time and just try to do my thing.

(On eagle on 4th) “I started off with three pars and missed a couple birdie opportunities on the first few holes that I thought were makeable, so then I hit that driver off the deck on four. It was about, I believe 258 or 259 (yards) and a little up hit. It just suited my eye, a good lie, and I hit it in the perfect spot and it just curled around.”

Minjee Lee, Australia

“I’m feeling pretty good. I feel like I can maybe play a little bit more aggressively if the wind doesn’t blow as much tomorrow, and maybe I can hole a couple putts out there. I always get amazing support from everybody back home. I feel very fortunate that I’ve got such a great support base and, yeah, I do think a lot of people will be rooting for me.”

Jasmine Suwannapura, Thailand

“I’m very happy about today; even though it wasn’t raining, it’s still pretty windy out there. Tomorrow, I probably have to look at the speed of the green more and then just keep hitting good shots. I need to make some putts and hope for the best.”

Caroline Masson, Germany

“I like staying under the radar. I’ve played really solid golf, and I know that if I just stick to my plan, I think I’m capable of shooting a good round tomorrow. You never know what’s going to happen on a Sunday. It seems like a lot of players probably have a shot to win, so I guess it’s just important to focus on myself and I’ll just do what I’ve been doing.”

Lindsey Weaver, USA

“It always bites to bogey the last, but other than that, it was a pretty good day I thought and I just hope that I can continue it into tomorrow.

(On having no caddie and a push trolley) “Yeah, so people have asked whether it’s a lot of work to just kind of like do all my own numbers, rake all my bunkers and push and everything. But it’s fine for me. It’s kind of just like playing junior golf, college golf again. I know a lot of people have different opinions about it, but it’s working for me right now.”

Austin Ernst, USA

“Royal Troon is a great test of golf, and it’s cool to see how we play it after seeing the guys play it. I know what I need to do tomorrow. I need to be more aggressive with the putter; just see if I can shoot a low score and post something.”

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