Planet Golf — 12 January 2024 by GW staff and news services
DP exile Pavon in contention at Sony

HONOLULU – Matthieu Pavon has a tattoo on his right hand inscribed, “The saliva that flows now will become the tears of joy tomorrow.” It’s a reminder to work hard, and it’s also a metaphor for his career.

Pavon, 31, turned pro in 2013 and progressed through the Alps Tour and Challenge Tour before earning dual membership on the PGA TOUR via last year’s DP World Tour. It hasn’t been an easy road for the Frenchman who was never hailed as a star at any level. But Pavon, the son of a longtime professional soccer player, has persevered.

Now he has a chance at his first TOUR title. Pavon enters the final round at the Sony Open in Hawaii in a tie for fourth place at 11-under, three back of co-leaders Keegan Bradley and Grayson Murray at Waialae Country Club. Sam Stevens holds solo third at 13 under; Pavon is part of a five-way T4 that includes Ben Silverman, Taiga Semikawa, Chris Kirk and Byeong Hun An.

It’s a crowded board, but Pavon’s grit suggests that he has just as good a chance as anyone.

“I always wanted to be here; I wasn’t sure if I was capable to get here,” said Pavon of becoming a TOUR member. “I finally did. … It’s my first week, but I feel pretty comfortable here.”

Pavon started fast on Moving Day with four birdies in a front-nine 31, moving atop the leaderboard, but he cooled on the back nine with eight pars and a three-putt bogey from 20 feet on No. 15. Nonetheless he was in good spirits post-round, contending in his ninth career TOUR start and his first as a full member; he earned his TOUR card via a newly introduced category as a top-10 finisher on the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai Standings, not otherwise exempt on TOUR. He cracked the top 10 in dramatic fashion with four consecutive closing birdies at the DP World Tour Championship in November.

Pavon resides in Andorra – a landlocked country in the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France – but he’ll make an American base in south Florida, where he recently took up membership at the Dye Preserve Golf Club. This season will bring new challenges, but if his play through 54 holes at Waialae – featuring scores of 66-66-67 – is any indication, he’s ready for them.

Both co-leaders have won on the PGA TOUR – Bradley is a six-time TOUR winner, while Murray won the 2017 Barbasol Championship and notched two Korn Ferry Tour titles last year. The co-leaders possess the veteran experience that Pavon hopes to attain in his first TOUR season, an education that included playing Saturday’s third round at Waialae alongside Bradley, whose 6-under 64 included back-to-back closing birdies, and TOUR veteran Harris English.

“I try to see how they react from some shots, the intensity they put into every shot and the focus,” Pavon said. “The body language and stuff like that, I kind of see. We all have a different game, but the closest I can get to those guys is mentally, so it’s always a learning process watching these guys.”

Bradley, who won two TOUR titles last season, has quickly bounced back at the Sony Open after finishing T45 in last week’s 59-player field at The Sentry (although he still shot 14-under there, as he keenly pointed out). Bradley, an avid New England Patriots fan, once said that he uses Patriots Super Bowl wins as markers in his life. With longtime coach Bill Belichick parting ways with the organization this week, perhaps there’s an extra edge for Bradley – who thrives with a chip on his shoulder – to hoist the Sony Open trophy in Belichick’s honor.

Murray played last season on conditional TOUR status, bouncing between the TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour. He finished No. 7 on the pathway circuit’s season-long standings to regain an exempt TOUR card.

Murray is eight months sober and feels at peace in life, which he admits hasn’t always been the case in his career. One constant is his belief in his abilities; they’ve shone through in rounds of 69-63-64 at Waialae.

“I know how to win,” Murray said. “I’m not going to back down. I’m going to give it my best, and if I don’t win tomorrow, it’s not from a lack of giving it my all or being scared out there.

“I’m not afraid of the moment.”

Neither is Pavon. He has put in the work, and if the tears of joy come flowing Sunday, they’ll be earned.


HONOLULU – Carl Yuan soaked up the views at the Sony Open in Hawaii, not just his name atop the leaderboard when he finished his second round Friday but just being in Hawaii to start his PGA TOUR season.

If not for Jon Rahm, the 26-year-old Yuan wouldn’t be here.

Yuan finished at No. 126 in the FedEx Cup last November by one point and was getting ready to earn his card back through PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry. And then Rahm signed with LIV Golf. The PGA TOUR suspended Rahm and removed him from the FedExCup standings.

Yuan moved up one spot to No. 125, earned his full card and got into the Sony Open. And then he posted a 5-under 65 on Friday at Waialae Country Club, finishing with a two-putt birdie, and had the early lead.

“I was very thrilled,” Yuan said. “It gives me another chance to improve and get better.”

Yuan was at 9-under 131 and led by one shot over 50-year-old Stewart Cink, whose two-week Hawaii swing includes the PGA TOUR Champions opener next week on the Big Island. Also one shot behind among the early starters were two players going in the opposite direction. Cam Davis, who opened with a 62, settled for a 70. Ben Griffin opened with a 70 and shot 62.

Keith Mitchell holed a 45-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth to cap his 64 and joined the large group at 8-under 132. As the wind eased – still blowing, but not the 30 mph variety from the first round – more players had a chance to join them by the end of the day.

Yuan’s rookie year was a struggle, but the Chinese player at least saved himself in the fall. He finished the regular season at No. 151 but did enough over the last three months to at least give himself a chance. But he was bumped out by Ryan Moore in the final event.

He played a practice round at Dye’s Valley at TPC Sawgrass to get ready for Q-School – “My wife was going to caddie for me and it was raining,” he said – and then later that night got word that Rahm was suspended and he was in.

Yuan wasn’t overly concerned because he would have had limited status. As it turns out, even some of the rookies with full cards didn’t get into the Sony Open.

“Before I learned the news, I was really trying to get myself ready and come out and play good in Hawaii and on the West Coast and try to earn myself back on tour,” Yuan said. “Luckily I got full status, but I’m still trying to do the same thing and come out here and play the best I can.”

Cink turned 50 last year and began to split time on the two tours. He figures he’ll play about two dozen events this year, a mixture of both. He’s not in the $20 million Signature Events and might play on the Champions Tour when that’s the best option.

Cink said he’s not worried about winning the FedExCup or the Charles Schwab Cup. He just wants to play as well as he can, and he certainly looked the part over two days at Waialae. He followed a 67 with a bogey-free 65.

Keegan Bradley and Harris English were among those two shots behind from the early starters. English wasn’t sure where that would put him at the end of the day because of the easing conditions. But he was in the mix, and that’s all that mattered.


HONOLULU — Cam Davis hopped islands in Hawaii and was happy to see the rust stayed back on Maui. He faced the strongest wind Thursday and produced the best opening round in the Sony Open in Hawaii, an 8-under 62 for a two-shot lead.

Davis lingered around the bottom of the pack last week at Kapalua during The Sentry until he finally got his game in order with a closing 65. Four days later on a flat but windy Waialae Country Club course, it felt even better.

“I started figuring out what wasn’t working, what was working, and Sunday last week I started to put some consistent shots together,” Davis said. “I thought as long as I can build off that round and continue that on to this week and next week, that is the sort of momentum I was looking for. It was very cool to back it up with a really good round.”

Taylor Montgomery had it easier, playing six holes before 30 mph gusts arrived along the shores around the bend from Diamond Head. He also had birdies on half his holes in a 64.

The Sony Open marked the return of former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, who had brain surgery on Sept. 18 to remove part of a tumor that was causing fear and anxiety, most of those thoughts centered around death.

He only decided in the last week or so that he was ready to play. And then he found himself getting emotional when his name was announced on the first tee.

“Hearing Topeka, Kansas, hearing my name called, there was a time when I didn’t know if that was going to be called again, so it got me a little more than I thought it was going to,” Woodland said.

The score was a 71, and in some respects, it was irrelevant.

“Probably the happiest I’ve ever been shooting over par, tell you that,” Woodland said. “The goal this week was to see how I was mentally, and I was really, really good. This was one of the hardest rounds I’ve ever had here. And got off to a rough start. I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast.

“I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really, really well. A lot to build on.”

Davis had the loudest gallery at Waialae, and not just because he was making birdies. His wife’s entire family from Seattle came to cheer the Australian, and they even stuck around to cheer his post-round interview with Golf Channel.

“A lot of them haven’t seen a golf tournament before and it was really fun to put a good round together in front of them,” Davis said. “I’m glad I gave them something to cheer about.”

The wind was so strong that Webb Simpson, among those at 66, hit 5-wood into the 490-yard first hole. Harris English hit one of the best shots on that hole, a bullet of a 3-iron to just inside 10 feet for one of only nine birdies on the day.

The wind eventually brought thick clouds and light rain, and it became too dark for everyone to finish. Eighteen players didn’t conclude their rounds.

Chris Kirk, who won The Sentry last week in Maui, is trying to join Justin Thomas (2017) and Ernie Els (2003) to sweep Hawaii, was among those at 66.

Kirk never gets too high or too low on the golf course, though he said winning made it hard to sleep for the first few nights on Oahu. The feeling of winning can linger, as can the crush of a tough loss in a playoff. There is one difference.

“You don’t mind lying awake after you win,” Kirk said with a grin.

Woodland hasn’t played since August. Medication wasn’t working, doctors feared the tumor might be growing and surgery was the only option. He brought his family to the Big Island and played some golf, but only after walking 18 holes with no big issues did he feel ready to play.

He was in the rough far too often. The speed of his putts was off. But he felt his levels of energy and focus were fine. It took 12 holes to record a birdie, but he played bogey-free over the last 10 holes.

“I tried to eliminate expectations,” Woodland said. “It’s hard to do, especially when you play in a result-oriented world. I tried to eliminate expectations and focus on what I can control, focus on slowing everything down, having the energy stay up, which it did.”

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