SAN DIEGO — Oui!
Matthieu Pavon became the first player to win a PGA Tour event under the French flag since World War II when he made an 8-foot putt on No. 18 at Torrey Pines South on Saturday for a dramatic birdie and a one-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
He raised his arms in celebration and shouted before hugging caddie Mark Sherwood after the putt rolled in as the municipal gem high above the Pacific Ocean glowed under the late-afternoon sun.
Pavon glowed, too. He said he almost quit golf 10 years ago because of the yips.
“It is big for our country,” the 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie said. “I hope it will inspire a lot of people, because coming from an amateur player which is 800 in the world to a PGA Tour winner is pretty big.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Pavon, who grew up playing soccer — his dad was a professional player — before switching to golf. “It feels like there is another round to play tomorrow because we’re only Saturday.”
The Farmers ended Saturday to avoid going up against the NFL’s conference championship games.
Pavon’s final-round 3-under 69 put him at 13 under, one stroke better than Nicolai Hojgaard. Pavon was two shots ahead of Stephan Jaeger, who led after the second and third rounds, and Nicolai Hojgaard and Nate Lashley.
French-American Martin Trainer won his first PGA Tour event at the 2019 Puerto Rico Open, an alternate event, while representing the United States. He later switched his nationality to France.
Pavon took the lead on the 12th hole, built the advantage to two strokes and then missed a 3-foot putt on the par-4 17th for a bogey that cut his lead to one stroke.
His only birdie on the back nine saved him from a playoff.
He appeared to be in trouble on the par-5, 541-yard 18th when his drive landed in a sand trap, about 4 inches from the front lip. His second shot went 103 yards into the left rough, which was high because of heavy rain Monday, with 145 yards to the hole. He responded with a brilliant third shot within 8 feet.
After watching Hojgaard’s 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway, “I was like, ‘OK, it’s going to be spicy now. I might have to do a birdie or something special,’” Pavon said.
After ending up in the trap and then not getting back to the fairway, he and Sherwood discussed whether he should lay up or go for it.
“I was like, ‘Listen, like the lie doesn’t look too bad, I feel like I can do it.’ He said ’OK, but it’s your call.’
“It’s my call. And I was so pumped at that time, I know I had the energy to lift that ball up on the green. 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 feed the slope on the green. That was the right time to prove I have the guts to finish that tournament and I did it so I’m so happy about that last hole.”
Pavon, who was born in Toulouse, was playing in just his 11th PGA Tour event. He has one victory on the European Tour.
Pavon pulled into a tie for the lead with Jaeger with a birdie on the par-5 ninth. They stayed tied until the par-4 12th, when Pavon made a short par putt to take the lead while Jaeger missed his for bogey.
Pavon rolled a 34-foot putt just right on 14 that would have given him a three-stroke lead. He made a 24-foot par putt on 16 to stay two strokes ahead and pumped his fist.
Pavon said it’s always been his dream to play in America.
“Since I came to America for the first time to practice in West Palm, I loved everything about America; the mentality, the sport, everything you guys do. It feels like I’m an American somehow.
He said he’s felt no pressure playing in America. “If I fail, I could just go back in Europe and start again. So it was just like trying to do your best every day, enjoy every moment because they are special ones.”
Pavon recalls watching this tournament on TV several times. He got his first look at Torrey Pines in person in the rain and fog on Monday, when he walked the South Course with Sherwood and just three balls and a putter to test the greens.
“It was foggy. I mean, I couldn’t see 100 yards away from me, so I was like, ‘OK, nice, welcome to California.’ ”
He shot an opening-round 69 on the North Course on Wednesday and then a brilliant 65 on the South Course on Thursday that had him just two shots off the lead.
As he began his second round, “It is like, ‘Oh, there is a fairway, there is the rough, there is a cliff. So everything was kind of brand new for me. But I was disciplined on my foggy practice round on where could be the pins and I had a good look at it.
“You know, it feels like when you don’t really know what you’re going to be faced with and you don’t have any expectation, this is sometimes when you show the best and this is clearly what happened.”