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Popovic bucks odds to deliver

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THERE wasn't so much as an inkling that this would happen. Not even the wildest suspicion. The closest thing to a premonition of Daniel Popovic's extraordinary week at the Australian PGA Championship was that he was clubbing his drives in the final round of last week's Open.

''Off the tee, I think he missed one tee shot (at the Australian Open). He's just fixed up his iron play a little bit. Simple,'' said a dejected yet sporting Rod Pampling, the unfortunate ying to Popovic's yang in a storybook final round in Coolum.

Popovic, a 26-year-old from Lower Templestowe in Melbourne's outer suburbs, arrived on the Sunshine Coast as a 400-1 roughie who had barely heard of himself.

He left with the Kirkwood Cup, $225,000 in his back pocket, taking phone calls from Greg Norman and delivered one of the most emotional and memorable victories in the past 20 years of Australian golf. If this is indeed the final PGA at Coolum, it has left the most enduring of memories.

Against everyone's better judgment, Popovic led from start to finish on the Sunshine Coast, laying down the challenge with a first-round 64 before ducking the various kitchen sinks hurled in his direction from the cream of Australian golf, as well as British Open winner Darren Clarke.

Everyone waited for his inevitable tumble down the leaderboard. And waited. And waited. And waited. Popovic was the feel-good story that kept on giving. The only way was up.

When he holed out for par on the 18th green, after Pampling had found the water in cavalier pursuit of an SOS birdie, he dared look at the scoreboard for the first time all week.

It showed him at 16 under, four shots clear of Anthony Brown and the experienced Pampling, who birdied the first six holes to head Popovic by the end of the front nine only to find out it was he, not the bolter, who faltered on the run home.

''Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. There's no words to explain how good it sounds. 2013 is going to be completely different to what I had planned two weeks ago,'' Popovic said.

To say Popovic came from the clouds would be to vastly underplay the extent of his anonymity. Fair play to the lone punter who had $50 on him with one bookmaker at 400-1. He or she pockets almost as much as Popovic's caddie.

The case against Popovic winning at Coolum was so overwhelming it shouldn't even have gone to trial. He was a combined 38 over in his 12 previous tournaments this year, undercutting his decent cards with wild blowouts. He was ranked 1251 in the world. He spent part of his early 20s spinning road signs and flipping pizzas as he tried to pay for his golfing dreams. He battled bulging discs and broken wrists.

And he had put his career on hold for his father Radi, who watched his son's victory unfold from Melbourne as he fights an incurable form of bone cancer that, along with a perilous fear of flight, kept him from witnessing the dream first hand.

Radi introduced his son to golf and he was Daniel's constant muse as he kept the field at bay in the PGA. Even when Pampling was sinking birdies like he was buttering toast, Popovic kept his head, conjuring remarkable self-assurance for a man with so little on which to draw.

''For him [Radi], it's going to be everything. He said he's so proud of me. So did my mum [Mila]. I cannot wait to give him a big bear hug. I don't know what to say. He's going to be so happy. We're going to have a pretty good party when I get back,'' Popovic said.

''[I thought of him] all the time. That is the difference, because of my father. That is why I am so confident and do back myself and do push myself on the golf course now.''

Pampling threatened to change the ending. His six birdies to start the day prompted the inevitable cries of ''59!'' before he bogeyed the 16th, then the 17th, then doubled the 18th, finding water when a miracle of his own was required.

''I'm over the moon,'' Radi Popovic said. ''We're just so excited, so happy, it's unbelievable. I was very anxious in the middle of the round. I still believed that he could do it.''

From day one, Popovic insisted he wasn't a one-day wonder and would be there at the business end of the tournament. Only his true believers put weight in the words.

Not only did he make good on his vow, he went all the way, showing the kind of unshakeable confidence more readily associated with tour veterans. He even went on to say he felt ready to rumble with the best players in the world, assuming he can get a US tour card.

''I'm not far off where you need to be in the world. My goal with golf is to win a major championship. And I don't feel I'm that far off. Mentally, I am there. I do feel that,'' he said.

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