When Matthieu Pavon’s ball came to rest in the lip of the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole of the Farmers Insurance Open, an overwhelming sense of panic descended upon his native France.
That fright only increased after he hit his second shot from the lip on 18.
His ball then came to rest in thick, deep, and gnarly rough to the left of the fairway.
Clinging to a one-shot lead, Pavon faced a difficult third. He had to control the spin out of the rough and, at the very least, clear the famous pond short of the green. Trouble lurked everywhere.
Then, the Frenchman pulled off an incredible shot, knocking it close and giving himself a chance for the win.
“I know I had the energy to lift that ball up on the green,” Pavon said of his shot.
“I kind of aimed to the middle of the green knowing the face would close a little bit because it’s quite deep and thick. That ball came out like a butterfly, and it really fed the slope on the green and left me a nine-footer or something.”
Pavon then drained the putt for the win.
“I don’t know about you, but Carnoustie ’99 was on my mind over that shot,” CBS Broadcaster Jim Nantz uttered after Pavon’s third.
But unlike Jean van de Velde, Pavon became France’s first PGA Tour winner, finishing the tournament at 13-under par.
“I still can’t believe it,” Pavon said afterward.
“I think it is historic for the French golf. We have Celine Boutier, the French LPGA player who won Evian last year, which is an even bigger performance. It is big for us as a country. I hope it will inspire a lot of people because coming from an amateur player who was 800th in the world to a PGA Tour winner, it’s pretty big.”
Pavon considered walking away from the game altogether a decade ago when he was still an amateur.
He had the “yips,” as he explained. But he later discovered a technique, worked hard, and grinded his way through European mini-tours. He eventually made it to the DP World Tour and won the Acciona Open de España this past Fall.
That victory helped launch Pavon up the Race to Dubai rankings, and ultimately, he received enough points to qualify for the PGA Tour.
But in a weird twist of fate, those “yips” reared their ugly head on the par-4 17th Saturday.
At that point, Pavon had a two-shot lead with two holes to play. He safely found the green with his approach but proceeded to three-putt. He missed a par putt from three feet.
That dropped his lead to just one over Nicolai Højgaard, who played alongside Pavon in the final group.
“You obviously want to come out on top,” Højgaard, who flew to Southern California straight from Dubai earlier in the week, said after his round Saturday.
“We were all grinding our hearts out. [Pavon] made good up-and-downs on the back nine and gave me a chance on 17, but then he pulled some magic on 18, which you’ve got to do if you want to win. I gave it my best to put a bit of pressure on him today, but he got one on me. Yeah, happy for him.”
The young Dane, who represented Europe at the 2023 Ryder Cup, showed remarkable class in the loss.
But he came up just short of Pavon, who made remarkable history at Torrey Pines.
“I can’t thank the PGA Tour enough for giving us the opportunity to come from Europe and compete here in America against the best players in the world,” Pavon added.
“That’s always been the dream for me. I finally got a shot, and I took it. It’s a dream come true, and it’s a little hard to believe.”