‘No words’: Matthieu Pavon birdies final hole for 1-stroke win in Farmers Insurance Open

‘No words’: Matthieu Pavon birdies final hole for 1-stroke win in Farmers Insurance Open

PGA Tour rookie becomes first Frenchman to win a Tour event since World War II after birdie putt on final hole delivers victory over Nicolai Hojgaard


By Kirk Kenney

Matthieu Pavon has a four-line tattoo written on the back of his right hand:“The saliva that flows now will become the tears of joy tomorrow.”Maybe that first part was lost in translation for the Frenchman.

Substitute sweat for saliva because Pavon was sweating it out, and may have been dry-mouthed as well, late in Saturday’s final round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

He needed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Torrey Pines for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke victory over Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard.

And the tears of joy?

“I haven’t cried yet, but it must come,” Pavon said on the edge of the 18th green moments after his victory.

Pavon, 31, turned professional a decade ago, but success had eluded him.

He won his first European Tour event in October. This was his first PGA Tour win, in his 11th Tour start. He is the first player from France to win on the PGA Tour since World War II.

The reward was the Farmers trophy topped with a miniature Torrey Pine, a surfboard and a check for $1.62 million.

“I have no words,” Pavon said. “It’s amazing.”

Matthieu Pavon’s hand tattoo is seen as he lines up a putt during the Farmers Insurance Open.
(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune

The last putt was a tester, especially since Pavon had just missed a 3-footer for par the previous hole that trimmed his lead to the slimmest of margins.

When Pavon’s tee shot on 18 found a fairway bunker, the door was opened for Hojgaard to try to force a playoff.

But Pavon hit a layup in the rough out of the trap and then chipped within the shadow of the flagstick with a brilliant third shot that he came up with after his caddie suggested playing safe for a par and a playoff.

When Hojgaard’s 49-foot eagle putt curved just around the hole, Pavon exhaled and knocked in the winning putt for his only birdie on the back nine.

“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 said.

Hojgaard applauded from the edge of the green, saying later, “He’s a great guy, happy for him. … We were all grinding our heart out. He 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.”

Nicolai Hojgaard reacts after just missing a potential tying putt on the 18th hole.
(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stephan Jaeger, the second- and third-round leader, shot 72 and finished two strokes behind the winner in a three-way tie for third place with Nate Lashley (67) and Jake Knapp (69).

When the final round began, the leaderboard included nine players, Pavon, Hojgaard and Jaeger among them, who had never won on the PGA Tour. In fact, they were a combined 0-for-319.

Nine guys nervously taking the tee desperately wanting to win but not yet knowing exactly how to do it.

There’s a first time for everything, but was that going to be the case at Torrey South, one of Tour’s toughest tracks?

Surely, the pressure would be enormous on a potential first-time winner, and one of the “name” players lurking just off the leaderboard would step in after the 0-fers stumbled.

Indeed, Farmers defending champion Max Homa made some noise on the front when he eagled the par-5 sixth hole to get within two strokes of the lead.

Then he slipped back. He finished tied for 13th after a 69.

Local favorite Xander Schauffele also got onto the leaderboard with a pair of birdies on the front.

Then he slipped back with two bogeys in his final three holes. He finished tied for ninth with a 70.

Tony Finau got to within two shots of the lead with four birdies on the front.

Back-to-back bogeys on the 13th and 14th holes removed him from the conversation. He finished tied for sixth with a 69.

That left the tournament wide open for a first-time Tour champion.

Pavon was only too willing to be that winner.

Not that he had much opportunity to get a lay of the land at Torrey Pines.

His first glimpse came during Monday’s “practice round” amid rain and fog.

“I couldn’t see 100 yards away from me, so I was like, OK, nice, welcome to California,” Pavon said. “I just walked 18 holes with my caddie, three balls, a putter and I was like, OK, just seeing the greens, trying to a little bit think about where could be the pins.

“Everything was so wet, so even the putts I practiced were like totally wrong compared to the speed of the green we had this week.”

Matthieu Pavon reacts after winning the Farmers Insurance Open.
(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be.

Success has been a long time coming for Pavon.

He said he was ranked 800th in the world as an amateur.

He nearly quit the game before turning pro because of the yips.

He became a professional rather than attend college so he could focus on his game, moving to Florida to practice.

“I loved everything about America,” Pavon said, “the mentality, the sport, everything you guys do. It feels like I’m an American somehow.

“Yeah, I mean, to be fair, I had almost no pressure coming, playing in America. It’s like it’s just an opportunity. If I fail, I could just go back in Europe and I start again. So it was just like trying to do your best every day, enjoy every moment because they are special ones, I can tell you there are very special ones, and it looked like it worked.”


While the PGA Tour pros headed for the exits Saturday evening, those hoping to follow in their footsteps prepared for one more day at Torrey Pines.

The Advocates Professional Golf Association plays a two-round event at Torrey Pines that coincides with the PGA event.

Florida residents Gabe Lench and Chase Johnson shared the lead with amateur Kris Stiles, a senior at San Jose State, after each shot 70 Saturday on the North in the first round of the of the APGA Farmers Insurance Invitational.

The APGA, founded in 2010 to provide minorities with greater opportunities in golf, will have its final round on the South televised by Golf Channel.

The winner will receive $30,000 of the $100,000 purse.

Shane Lowry had a double eagle on the par-5 sixth, holing his second shot from 256 yards out.

It was the second straight week on Tour with a double eagle after Knapp had one at The American Express.

• Locals watch: In addition to Schauffele’s performance, Michael Kim (Torrey Pines High School) shot 72 to finish tied for 37th and Charley Hoffman (Poway High School) shot 71 to tie for 56th.