Recovering from flu, Popov an unlikely leader


PHOENIX – Even Sophia Popov didn’t expect to see herself atop the leaderboard Thursday at the weather-suspended first round of the JTBC Founders Cup.

That’s because she spent seven days in a hospital last week fighting a “Type A flu” and infection.

Popov, 22, a rookie from Germany who also has U.S. citizenship, is a most improbable first-round co-leader.

Popov is a rookie making just her second start this season after shooting an 80 and a 76 and missing the cut at the Women’s Australian Open. She was the last player to get into the Founders Cup field, getting her chance after Azahara Munoz withdrew to undergo surgery to remove a tumor on her left hand. Popov was lying in a hospital bed in Naples, Fla., last Friday when she got the news she was in for Phoenix.

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“I was lying there with an IV, stuck,” Popov said. “I more or less wanted to cut it off and leave.”

Popov said hospital staff practically forbid her to play when she first got the news on that Friday.

“I was kind of feeling better, and the doctor said, `You’re not going anywhere,’” Popov said. “Tough luck, pretty much. He’s pretty mean.”

Popov said she felt well enough by late Sunday that she was released from the hospital. She arrived in Phoenix Tuesday and played just nine practice holes. She did not play Wednesday. She’s still not feeling at full strength.

“I'm just kind of waiting for the rest of the antibiotics to kick in, but they are doing their job, I think,” Popov said. “I'm definitely feeling a lot better than I did even two days ago.”

Popov believes she contracted an infection while back in Germany, where she visited after missing the cut in Australia.

“I got sick, more or less, two weeks ago,” Popov said. “I was in the hospital probably seven days, around six nights. I didn't actually touch a golf club for almost 10 days, maybe even a little more.”

A USC graduate, Popov, 22, helped the Trojans win the NCAA Championship last year. She earned her LPGA membership tying for 11th at Q-School in December. She was born in the United States. Her mother’s American, her father’s German. She moved to Germany when she was 5 and remained there until coming back to the United States when she was 17. She won a school-record five titles while at USC.

“I consider myself German,” she said.