Popovic, outside the top 1,000 in world rankings, had a 54-hole total of 13-under 203 on the Palmer Coolum Resort course. Fellow Australian Andrew Brown, who has never won as a professional and who has only one top-10 finish on the Australasian PGA Tour, shot 64 to move into second place.
U.S. Champions Tour regular Peter Senior, last week’s Australian Open winner, was tied for third with fellow Australian Matthew Griffin. Senior shot 68 and Griffin 70 and were another stroke back.
Robert Allenby shot 68 and fellow Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who needs to be among the top three here in order to finish in the top 50 year-end world rankings and earn a U.S. Masters spot next year, had a 72 were tied for ninth at 208.
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, the 2011 British Open champion, shot a 72 was tied for 24th, eight strokes behind Popovic. South African Rory Sabatini (70) was 11 strokes out of the lead while Greg Norman, another player featured in the pre-tournament posters, only made it through two holes Thursday before withdrawing due to food poisoning.
The 26-year-old Popovic, who has led after all three rounds, nearly quit golf earlier this year due to his father’s serious illness <0x2014> his dad has incurable bone cancer. On Saturday, Popovic made a 15-foot birdie putt on the tough, water-lined 18th to give him his two-shot buffer into the final round.
“I knew that I had it in me and I still know that I have one more good round tomorrow in me,” Popovic said. “I’ve just got to keep my routine going.”
Popovic said his father would be watching the final round from his hospital bed, where he is undergoing further blood testing for his cancer.
“It’s going to be an incredible ride for the whole family I think, tomorrow,” Popovic said. “For myself ... and my dad, it is going to be huge.”
Brown had the round of the day, making birdie on six of his first 10 holes and bogeying only the par-4 13th.
“I had a couple of slightly jittery holes towards the end of the back nine, so it was nice to hit a good drive down 18 and then hit an iron nice and close,” he said. “It hasn’t been the best year for me, but whenever you shoot 64 in any tournament, let alone the Aussie PGA, you take it.”
Brown said his birdie at the fifth hole after hitting his approach into the trees was the turning point of his round.
“I hit an ordinary second shot but got a good break away from the signage and holed a 25-foot putt for birdie, and then birdied the next two holes,” he said.
“There are a lot of birdies out there but it is the kind of course where things can go pear-shaped very quickly, too.”