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Matt Kuchar dealt crushing blow after leading British Open with five to play

Winner Jordan Spieth of the United States, right,

Winner Jordan Spieth of the United States, right, and runner up Matt Kuchar of the United States look at the trophy after the final round of the British Open Golf Championship, at Royal Birkdale, Southport, England, Sunday July 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson) Credit: AP / Dave Thompson

SOUTHPORT, England — Matt Kuchar called it crushing, having a chance at age 39 to win his first major, coming from behind to take the lead and then having it all snatched away by a remarkable performance from his playing partner — and friend — Jordan Spieth.

Kuchar moved a shot in front at the 13th hole of the final round of the 146th British Open yesterday when Spieth took about a half hour to declare an unplayable lie, take a drop on the driving range and scramble for an amazing one-putt bogey.

With five holes to go, Kuchar and his supporters in the crowd — always shouting, “Kooo-tch” — all must have thought he had a great chance to reach his major goal. But Spieth, undeterred, took it away from him over the next four holes. He made a birdie at 14, followed by an eagle at 15, followed by a birdie at 16 and yet another birdie at 17. Kuchar had missed once again.

“It hurts,” Kuchar conceded. “It’s hard to explain. And it’s an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, up a fight.”

But at the end there he was, after a 1-under-par 69, at 9-under 271 and three back of Spieth, who with his own 69 had a 268.

“You work so hard to get to this position,” Kuchar said. His wife and family had flown overnight from Colorado to surprise him. It would have been a great celebration. But there was his wife, Sybi, the good sport, hugging Spieth at the end.

“To have a chance to make history and win a championship,” Kuchar said, “you don’t get that many opportunities. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go . . . It’s hard to sit back and take.”

Golf is different from other games. You can’t control your opponent. You can’t play defense. You just stand there, while, say, Spieth knocks in a 40-foot putt for eagle-3 on 15. One moment, Kuchar was tied with Spieth at 8 under. The next moment, he was two shots back.

“I can only control what I do,” Kuchar said. What he has done in the past was win The Players Championship, the so-called fifth major. But that pales next to this particular major, the “Open Championship,” the oldest tournament in golf.

“We knew Jordan was in a great deal of trouble at 13,” said Kuchar, who during the wait on 13 for the ruling and the drop placed a towel on the fairway and knelt down on it. “So I went ahead and hit my second. I wanted to hit it while I was somewhat fresh. I hit a great shot and nearly thought my birdie putt was going in. All of a sudden, I have a one-shot lead in the British Open with five to go. I’m playing really well. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.

“And he just really turned it up.”

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