Matthieu Pavon, of France, watches his puttt on the sixth...

Matthieu Pavon, of France, watches his puttt on the sixth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. Credit: AP/Mike Stewart

PINEHURST, N.C. — In the final pairing, three shots off the lead and within reach of his first major title, Matthieu Pavon found himself in a completely new position on the final day of the U.S. Open.

He wound up with the best possible vantage point as Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy dueled for the victory.

Yet the Frenchman, who will play in his home Olympics in Paris next month, still managed to shoot a tidy 1-over 71 on Sunday to tie for fifth — his best finish in a major. He finished at 3 under on tricky Pinehurst No. 2, quite a showing for a player who arrived in the North Carolina sandhills with dinged-up confidence.

“I enjoyed every moment on the golf course," Pavon said.

Everyone else did, too, the way DeChambeau and McIlroy were going at it. The big-hitting DeChambeau made a spectacular up-and-down at 18, shortly after McIlroy missed two short putts over his last three holes, and finished at 6 under to win his second U.S. Open title. McIlroy finished one shot back to extend his decade-long drought in the majors.

“Even though you see Rory starting like a bomb and Bryson doing Bryson things, let’s say, I always try to stick to my game plan, stick to the things I know that I have to do,” Pavon said. "And down the stretch, my game got better and better.

“I had some great birdie chances, birdie positions, and I made one or two great putts. Overall, it was a super nice week.”

Matthieu Pavon, of France, watches his tee shot on the...

Matthieu Pavon, of France, watches his tee shot on the eighth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

At minimum, it was a welcome change in trajectory since a memorable few months.

Pavon claimed his first European tour victory at the Spanish Open in October, and then closed with four straight birdies at the DP World Championship in Dubai to earn his PGA Tour card. And in January, he became the 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.

But he had missed the cut at last month’s PGA Championship and last week’s Memorial. He was feeling worn down. So, he focused on trying to raise his energy level. He also worked with putting coach Jon Karlsen on a few tweaks to his approach on the greens before arriving here.

The approach worked. On Thursday he became the first player to have multiple eagles (two) in a U.S. Open round at Pinehurst No. 2 and shot a 67. He followed with a 70 and 69, putting him alongside DeChambeau for the final-pair spotlight.

“It’s an amazing journey,” Pavon said. “It really shows that in golf, it can go really fast one way and really fast also the other way. But it’s just the work I’ve put in with my team. We work out with everybody. I have a nice group of people around me, very positive people, very hardworking people.”

It might have helped Sunday, too, when momentum hit a divot.

He opened with a bogey when his 8-foot par putt caught the left lip and refused to go down. He got the stroke back by knocking in a 10-footer on the third for birdie, but followed with three bogeys over the next nine holes to fall off the pace.

Pavon birdied the par-4 13th hole, then followed a terrific tee shot to 5 feet at the 15th and made the birdie putt to reach 3 under. That's where he finished.

Meanwhile, he was playing in front of crowds building with buzz as DeChambeau and McIlroy traded the lead and rode the drama all the way to the 18th green, with DeChambeau hitting his winning par putt and then motioning to the crowd to pause the cheering so that Pavon could finish with his own par.

“We know that in a season you’re going to have up and downs,” Pavon said. “I had pretty big downs the last three weeks. I missed cuts. It was not easy, but I always tried to keep the things as simple as I can.”

And now?

“One week, one good sensation, and all of a sudden you feel like you can win almost any tournament,” he said.

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