Daniel Popovic has spent recent months on Queensland’s Gold Coast fine-tuning his game for the Australian PGA Championship but his greatest asset heading into the opening round may have been his memory.
Popovic started the tournament with a two-under par 70, his performance fueled by visions of his win four years ago and the immediate aftermath as he shared the spoils of victory with family and friends.
“It’s been a long time since I have actually been on the leaderboard in a big tournament but it is nice to be up there,” Popovic said.
“When I saw the trophy on the first tee it brought back a lot of good memories. For approximately a week I reckon I had every single meal – apart from hard food – definitely corn flakes, coffee, champagne, beer, everything I could ever think of I had out of it.
“It was good because it was our last event for the year so we didn’t have an event for about a month. I completely partied it up. I didn’t let it out of my sight.
“Everyone had a go. I would like to be eating my corn flakes out of it come Monday morning.”
Popovic has given himself every chance again after opening the tournament with three birdies and a lone bogey. His win on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in 2012 was a Cinderella story. It was also expected to signal a breakthrough in his career but injuries and form have stymied his progress since.
He broke his ankle skylarking with a golf buggy two years ago and then suffered a back injury earlier this year which forced him to take a break from the game.
He spent his time away traveling, including a stint at the home of former English cricketer Kevin Pietersen, a friend and occasional golf partner.
He picked Pietersen’s brain and caddied for the former international at the BMW PGA pro-am, soaking up the experience as he prepared for his comeback.
His ranking, which reached a career-high after his PGA win, is now in the 1800s. He belied that as he finished the opening day of the Australian PGA Championship in the reckoning, five shots behind leader Andrew Dodt but alongside the likes of Greg Chalmers, John Senden, Marc Leishman and Robert Allenby.
For the first time in a long time he is back in the reckoning.
“Once you know you have been there and your best golf is capable of competing, that is what I will draw off,” Popovic said.
“I know my best golf can win tournaments and compete. I just have to stick to playing well and running off that confidence. The belief is still there, I know my game is still there, I know I can win tournaments, I know that I can compete.
“I have actually been here for a couple of months preparing for this event. It’s really nice to be playing well again and in this event – something special for me.”