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.”