Kuchar stunned by twists, turns

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - GOLF -

SOUTH­PORT, Eng­land — Matt Kuchar felt as if he had the claret jug in his grasp. He said he could taste vic­tory, fi­nally break­ing through in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship af­ter all those top-10 fin­ishes.

In the end — and with­out do­ing much wrong — he was a by­stander to one of the great­est shows in golf his­tory.

“All you can re­ally do,” Kuchar said, “is sit back, tip your cap and say, ‘Well done.’”

Kuchar was mag­nan­i­mous as ever af­ter see­ing the Bri­tish Open ti­tle wrested away from him by Jor­dan Spi­eth, who played the fi­nal five holes in 5 un­der at Royal Birk­dale to win by three shots.

But this one re­ally hurt. “It’s hard to ex­plain,” Kuchar said, paus­ing to find the words. “It’s crush­ing. … You work so hard to get to this po­si­tion. And to have a chance to make his­tory and win a cham­pi­onship. You don’t get that many op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Kuchar’s wife, Sybi, and two kids, Cameron and Car­son, had even flown in unan­nounced for the oc­ca­sion. He talked to them over the phone Satur­day night, and thought they’d be in Colorado. In­stead they were at the back of the 18th green when Kuchar saw them for the first time, “a teary sur­prise” as he called it.

He gave Sybi a kiss then knelt down to hug his boys. Cameron was cry­ing. Af­ter a roller-coaster back nine when he held it all to­gether in the most try­ing of cir­cum­stances, daddy’s emo­tions also showed. Spi­eth said Kuchar was par­tic­u­larly emo­tional in the scorer’s tent just off No. 18.

Kuchar started the fi­nal round three shots back from Spi­eth but had a front-row seat as his play­ing part­ner’s game, es­pe­cially his putting, im­ploded. When Kuchar rolled in a 9-foot birdie putt at No. 9 and Spi­eth missed a 4-foot par putt mo­ments later, they were tied for the lead.

They still were when they reached the 13th tee, where Spi­eth sent his drive 60 yards right, over the gallery and into thick rough on top of a hill. He wouldn’t play an­other shot for 21 min­utes, while he de­cided where to take re­lief from an un­playable lie.

Graeme McDow­ell tweeted that Kuchar was “col­lat­eral dam­age” amid Spi­eth’s tra­vails, but Kuchar said it didn’t in­ter­rupt his mo­men­tum. He un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the mo­ment, knew Spi­eth was in trou­ble, so he and cad­die John Wood “made our­selves comfy and told some sto­ries.”

Spi­eth es­caped with a bo­gey, but Kuchar made par to take a one-shot lead with five holes re­main­ing.

Spi­eth re­sponded by al­most ac­ing No. 14 and mak­ing birdie, rolling in a 50-foot putt for ea­gle on No. 15, and mak­ing a 30-foot putt across the 16th green for birdie. Kuchar played Nos. 14-17 in 2 un­der but was two shots be­hind go­ing down the 18th fair­way, where he still “took a mo­ment and thought, ‘This is an amaz­ing thing.’”

“Matt didn’t lose the tour­na­ment at all to­day,” Spi­eth said. “He played well down the stretch. I mean, I just had my long putts go in, his didn’t. That was sim­ply it.”

“I be­lieve Matt Kuchar will win a ma­jor cham­pi­onship. And I be­lieve that he’ll do it some­time soon. He’s a great cham­pion and he’s such a great per­son. And he’s a great in­di­vid­ual to look up to.”

Kuchar, ranked No. 18, is age 39 and this was his ninth top-10 fin­ish at a ma­jor. It was his sec­ond ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in gen­uine con­tention in the back nine of a ma­jor, af­ter the Mas­ters in 2012 when he was tied for the lead af­ter play­ing the 15th hole Sun­day. He bo­geyed the 16th and fin­ished third.

His game and tem­per­a­ment held up at Birk­dale, shoot­ing 66-69 on the week­end. He kept that trade­mark smile on his face, through the ups and downs. As much as this one stings, he is con­fi­dent he’ll come again.

“To be so close, to taste a vic­tory and not be able to get it, it’s hard,” Kuchar said. “But I’ll look for­ward to the chal­lenge of try­ing again.”

AP/DAVE THOMP­SON

Matt Kuchar fin­ished sec­ond to Jor­dan Spi­eth at the Bri­tish Open, fall­ing short by three strokes.

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