Emotional Popovic grabs Australian PGA Championship lead

Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:00am EST

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(Reuters) - An emotional Daniel Popovic fired a sizzling eight-under-par 64 to grab a two-shot opening round lead at the Australian PGA Championship on Thursday after Greg Norman withdrew due to a bout of food poisoning.

Popovic, who won the 2012 Australasian PGA qualifying school, flirted with the course record of 62 at the Palmer Coolum Resort in southern Queensland before settling two shots ahead of compatriot and clubhouse leader Scott Strange.

Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, China's Zhang Xin Jun and Singapore's Choo Tze-huang were further one shot behind at tied third.

Popovic birdied his first four holes and went on to sink five consecutive birdies in the round of his life before revealing his father's battle against cancer.

"It really shook me around a lot. It still sort of does when I think about it," the 26-year-old said.

"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 find happiness through him.

"It is a slow growing cancer but you are unsure of when the actual day will come.

"But he is a strong man and a very stubborn man and I think he'll be here for a little while longer."

Defending champion Greg Chalmers began his title defense with an even-par 72 while Northern Irishman Darren Clarke, the former British Open winner, carded a two-under-par 70 in the $1.3 million tournament.

The 57-year-old Norman bogeyed the first two holes of his opening round before deciding he could not continue.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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