Matthieu Pavon's extra putting work pays off with 2 eagles to start U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Matthieu Pavon's confidence had taken a hit in recent weeks after two straight missed cuts, a hiccup in what had otherwise been a strong first season on the PGA Tour.

“To be fair,” the 31-year-old Frenchman said, “it wasn't the highest so far this season.”

Some extra work on his putting before the U.S. Open changed that trajectory, and on Thursday he became the first player to have multiple eagles (two) in an Open round at the Pinehurst No. 2 course that also hosted in 1999, 2005 and 2014. He closed with a 3-under 67, sending him to the clubhouse just two shots behind leader Patrick Cantlay from the morning half of the draw.

It was another highlight in what has been an eventful past year, which included becoming the first French player since World War II to win a PGA Tour event when he closed with a birdie to win at Torrey Pines in January. He missed the cut at last month's PGA Championship and at last week's Memorial.

“You know you're going to make mistakes, but it's all about avoiding big numbers," Pavon said. “And obviously I made my four best swings of the day on the par 5s and dropped two putts, so it gave me a nice two eagles. It gave me a little bit of freedom today.”

He played like he felt it, too, on the Donald Ross-designed course known for its domed greens and sandy areas featuring native plants instead of traditional rough.

The highlights came in the first 10 holes, starting when he hit a 4-iron approach on the 582-yard fifth to set up an 18-foot putt for the first eagle. After a birdie on No. 8, he struck again at the 619-yard 10th, using a 3-wood on his second shot to set up a 27-foot putt. Pavon sent the ball smoothly rolling toward the cup before it caught the left lip and dropped.

At that point, Pavon was 5-under and in sole possession of the lead while marking the seventh time a player had two eagles in a U.S. Open round since 2000. Not bad for a guy who had only made one cut in three previous appearances.

“It's funny because (eagles) pretty much come when you don't really expect them,” Pavon said.

Then again, it sounds like he had done the homework to be ready when the opportunity came.

Pavon said putting coach Jon Karlsen came to see him in Florida about two weeks ago for pre-Open work, tweaking their approach to prepare for greens Pavon described as “faster, slopier, grainier — nothing that I really experienced in Europe.”

“It's not really technical,” Pavon said of the adjustments. “It's more about seeing breaks because when it’s slower, when you have less break, the ball doesn’t move as much as here. Here, it's really steep, it's fast, it's grainy so the ball moves quite a lot.”

Consider it part of the learning curve for a player who has made some big leaps in the past year. That included claiming his first European tour victory at the Spanish Open in October, and then closing with four straight birdies at the DP World Championship in Dubai — the last being enough to earn his PGA Tour card.

Now, he has a chance this weekend to add to a short U.S. resume, one headlined by that January win as well as finishing tied for 12th at the Masters.

“My game this year is quite good overall," Pavon said. “I had a few weeks down, but it happens in a year. Yeah, you have stuff that you have to adjust for the PGA Tour. I wasn't like, let's say, fully prepared for this. Short game needs to be really tighter here. This is where I can see the biggest difference.”


AP golf: