HONOLULU, HAWAII – JANUARY 14: Grayson Murray reacts to his putt at the 18th hole on the first playoff hole during the final round of Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 14, 2024 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Chris Kirk, Grayson Murray, Nick Dunlap and Matthieu Pavon claimed significant victories in the new 2024 season, thanks to a wonderful array of shot-making that delivered winning moments.

By Helen Ross

Chris Kirk strikes magical 5-iron to win The Sentry

The 17th hole on the Plantation Course at Kapalua is a picturesque but challenging 548-yard downhill par 4 with a second shot over a gorge. On Sunday at The Sentry, it was a particularly  stern test – the average proximity to the hole there for the field was a distant 28 feet, 10 inches.

Chris Kirk, though, was undaunted, even when the wind direction changed, and he switched  from what he expected to be a 7-iron to a 5-iron for his approach. Tied for the lead, the 38-year-old American responded with a shot he said later he’d never forget that settled a mere 30 inches from the pin, the closest in the final round.

The ensuing birdie lifted Kirk to his sixth victory in the PGA TOUR’s first of eight Signature Events in 2024. The clutch putt was his 30th birdie of the week – a career high in a 72-hole event for the soft-spoken man from Georgia. He was 16 under on the par 4s alone, best in the field and second lowest of a Sentry winner since 1999.

Kirk also led the field in putting and scrambling with a 91.67 success rate, a career-best and  better than any winner at Kapalua since 1999. His lone bogey of the week came on his 39th hole and he responded with four birdies over his next five holes to right the ship.

That birdied capped a Sunday 65 for Kirk who beat Sahith Theegala by a shot. He nipped the final-round scoring average of 66.67 – which was the lowest on TOUR since detailed stats began being kept in 1983.

Grayson Murray stands tall with putter at Sony Open in Hawaii

Grayson Murray didn’t have the best of starts at Waialae Country Club, making bogey on three of his first five holes. But he turned things around when he made his first birdie of the day at the par-5 ninth, a trend that continued until he sealed his second PGA TOUR victory.

Murray played the two par 5s at Waialae in 9 under, including a birdie at No. 18 on Sunday to get into a playoff with Keegan Bradley and Byeong Hun An. Then he birdied that hole again in sudden death – rolling in a putt of 38 feet, 7 inches – which gave him the win when the others missed from 17 and 4 feet, respectively.

For the week, Murray, who closed with a 67 and finished at 14 under, was tied for first in three of the four par 5 statistical measurements – Performance (9 under), Birdie or Better Leaders (100 percent) and Scoring Average (3.88).

But it wasn’t just the par 5s that were pivotal — Murray also led the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Tee to Green. He was tied for second overall in Greens in Regulation, too, hitting 57 or 72, and that 79.17 percentage was the second highest total of his career (both of which resulted in wins).

LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 21: Nick Dunlap of the United States poses for a photo with the trophy after winning The American Express at Pete Dye Stadium Course on January 21, 2024 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Life-changing triumph for Nick Dunlap at The American Express

It wasn’t exactly uncharted territory, but it was close. Nick Dunlap’s victory at The American Express was just the ninth for an amateur on the PGA TOUR since 1940 – and the first since Phil Mickelson won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, 12 years before he was born.

Dunlap was just 20 years and 29 days old, which makes him the seventh youngest winner ever on TOUR and the youngest amateur champion since Chick Evans at the Western Open in 1910. A  sophomore at Alabama, he turned pro the following week after reaching No. 1 in the PGA TOUR University standings and is fully exempt through the end of the 2026 season.

In addition, Dunlap was playing in just his fourth PGA TOUR event – only five players have made fewer starts in picking up their first victory. Interestingly, the reigning U.S. Amateur champ had missed the cut the other three times he played on TOUR.

Crucial to Dunlap’s victory was a  third-round 60 at La Quinta Country Club that included 10 birdies and an eagle and tied Patrick Cantlay for the lowest 18-hole score by an amateur on TOUR. Cantlay, who has gone on to win eight tournaments and the 2021 FedExCup, shot that round of 10 under in the second round of the 2011 Travelers Championship.

Dunlap, who only made only bogey in his first three rounds, owned a three-stroke lead entering the life-changing final 18 holes. He ended up winning by one after shooting 29 under which was the lowest score posted by an amateur on TOUR since 1983. By a phenomenal 11 strokes, no less. 

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 27: Matthieu Pavon of France speaks to the media after winning the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South Course on January 27, 2024 in La Jolla, California. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Matthieu Pavon hurries to maiden win at Farmers Insurance Open

Matthieu Pavon spent seven years playing in Europe trying to get his first DP World Tour victory, which finally came last October at the Acciona Open de Espana. He didn’t have to wait nearly so long, though, once he earned his membership on the 2024 PGA TOUR.

Pavon was making just his third start as a TOUR member (and 11th overall) when he birdied the 18th hole at Torrey Pines to win the Farmers Insurance Open. By contrast, he’d played 185 events before winning on the DP World Tour.

The 5-footer for birdie enabled the 31-year-old Frenchman to bounce back from a bogey at No. 17 and capped a round of 69 on the challenging South Course. Pavon’s average in three rounds on the South was 68.7 – which tied him with Jon Rahm for the lowest by a winner since 2003.

Pavon, who earned his TOUR card after finishing eighth in the inaugural DP World Tour Top 10, started the season with a tie for seventh in Hawaii. He then made a career-high 25 birdies or better on TOUR at The American Express and added 21 more at Torrey Pines.

Pavon gave himself plenty of chances, hitting 40 of 54 greens in regulation on the South Course where his Strokes Gained: Putting average of +1.99 was the third best by a winner since 2004. He also led the field in distance of putts made with seven coming from outside 20 feet.

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