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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Sophia Popov was part of two of the biggest stories on the LPGA last year. First, she won her first major title at the AIG Women’s Open in Britain in August. Then she didn’t get to play in the ANA Inspiration despite the major victory.
The issue was that the ANA Inspiration, originally scheduled for April, froze its field to what would have been the April players, even though the tournament was delayed until September by the coronavirus pandemic. But when Popov won the Open, normally earning an automatic berth to the next playing of the ANA Inspiration, the German star who played college golf at USC found herself on the outside of the field.
That situation caused a change in the rules for the LPGA, but Popov is finally in the desert this week for the first of her five guaranteed starts in the first major of the year.
“You know, with good play you’re actually having fun, so, so far it’s been awesome,” Popov said after a second-round 3-under 69 put her among the second-day leaders. “It’s kind of what I hoped for. I watched this tournament so many times. Been here, watched my former teammates play.
“Yeah, it’s an amazing course, obviously in really good condition and I’m playing I guess up to my expectations, so that’s good,” Popov added.
Bad news for the field?
Here’s some unsettling news for the rest of the field in the ANA Inspiration this week: Inbee Park thinks her putting is getting better.
Long known as one of the best putters on the LPGA—if not the best–Park cruised to victory last week at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad. But she believes so far her week at the ANA Inspiration is showing improvement in her putting.
“I have been rolling it much better this week definitely, because, I mean, the green conditions are so much better and my speed is a lot better this week,” Park said. “It’s probably the same condition for everybody. I had some good putts last week, but I also missed a lot of short ones last week, which everybody probably does. This week, I feel like I’m holing them much better.”
Sticking around this year
Dani Holmqvist of Sweden knew that some day she would love to tee it up in the ANA. When she finally had her first chance last year, it ended in a disappointing withdrawal because of a back injury.
“This has been the major I was looking forward to the most just watching on TV growing up,” Holmqvist said. “Last year was tough and I played (with) one of my better friends on tour, and she walked up to me after 12 holes and said, ‘Dani, I see that you really want to do this, but you can’t do this to yourself.’
“So it was tough memories,” Holmqvist said. “It was nice walking past her (Thursday), hitting a drive past the place I withdrew.”
Michelle Wie West, making her return to the ANA this week for the first time since 2019, might be the best-known golfer to miss the cut in the major championship this week. Wie fired a 2-under 70 in Thursday’s opening round, but stumbled out of the gate with three bogeys on her first three holes on the way to a 79 on Friday. That left the former U.S. Women’s Open champion at 7-over 151, missing the cut by four shots.
Wie West said it wasn’t just her golf game that needs work.
“Making the right decision takes practice, too,” she said. “That’s something that is hard to practice when you aren’t playing, and that’s probably where the rust really showed. That being said, I had some really good up and downs today that I’m definitely proud of.”
Other players missing the cut included past ANA champions Yani Tseng and Morgan Pressel.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.