VICTORIAN bolter Daniel Popovic will draw inspiration from his sick father as he boldly backs himself to hold off the big guns at the Australian PGA Championship and turn a brilliant first round into a dream tournament victory.
The little-known 26-year-old caught fire at Coolum, rattling off nine birdies in his round of 64 to upstage the tournament fancies and put himself in a prime position. He leads by two over Perth's Scott Strange, with Geoff Ogilvy shadowing him three shots back.
Relative unknown takes PGA lead
A relatively unknown Daniel Popovic upstaged the big names at the PGA Australia on Thursday, carding an eight-under-par 64 to lead the standings.
It's unknown territory for Popovic, who has played a dozen tournaments around the country this year, making the cut in half and fighting a recent battle with the putting yips.
All that was forgotten in his opening round at a blustery PGA. While pre-event favourite John Senden struggled in the south-easterly winds to finish one-over the card, Popovic played with the confidence and poise of a man with a far more decorated resume.
Seeing an unfamiliar name on top of the first-day leaderboard isn't uncommon, but Popovic insists he's not going to crumble and tumble down the ranks as he heads towards the weekend.
In an emotional press conference, he said he was drawing strength and inspiration from his father, Radi, who is battling a rare form of cancer called multiple myeloma, a crippling disease of the bones that can be treated but not cured.
''My father, earlier on in the year, he found out that he has cancer. It really shook me around a lot,'' he said.
''It still does when I think about it. But I find a lot of strength in him, how he's fighting that and how he really wants me to push forward with my golf, and [I] find happiness through him.
Radi has restricted movement but was in Sydney last week to see his son tee off in the Australian Open, where he finished in a tie for 62nd.
Popovic said Radi and his mother, Mila, would have spent the day in emotional fits as he blitzed the PGA field and, at one stage, flirted with a 59 as he stroked five straight birdies.
''That was some of the best golf that I've played in my life,'' he said. ''There were times there where I even surprised myself how confident I was with the way that I was hitting it. My mum and dad will be over the moon. They will be in tears. My mum would have been bawling her eyes out all day.''
Popovic won't be content to leave the Sunshine Coast with some good memories and life lessons. He believes he is hitting the ball so well he can contend, with much hinging on his form with a new putter that has given him a fresh lease of life on the greens.
''I'm going to try my best to finish off this tournament. I've put myself in a fantastic position to go out there and give it a fair crack. I'm just hitting it so good,'' he said.
Strange was the early clubhouse leader, shooting a bogey-free 66 to make of the most of the stiller conditions that were available to the morning groups. He is one clear of Ogilvy, Xin Jun Zhang, of China, and Singapore's Tze-huang Choo, who all returned 67s.
Ogilvy was the winner here in 2008 and along with the revitalised Peter Senior (four under), looks the biggest threat on the front page of the leaderboard.
''I like how I am playing,'' Ogilvy warned.