Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — 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 on 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."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80