Kuchar (69) comes up short in back-nine duel
Matt Kuchar led The Open for about 15 minutes before getting barreled over by a freight train named Jordan Spieth.
Tasked with the difficult job of closing a three-shot gap over the final 18 holes, Kuchar appeared in position to benefit from a shocking performance from the 54-hole leader. He even took a one-shot lead after Spieth dropped a shot amid a surreal scene on the 13th hole, his fifth bogey of the day.
With the Claret Jug in sight, Kuchar closed with strength. But he never stood a chance as Spieth raced past him, combining accurate approaches with a flurry of gut-wrenching putts.
At 9 under, Kuchar stood three shots better than 74 of the other 76 players who made the cut at Royal Birkdale. But he still finished three shots behind the newest Champion Golfer of the Year.
"It’s hard to explain. It’s crushing; it hurts,” Kuchar said. “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. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it’s a hard one to sit back and take."
At age 39, Kuchar set out Sunday in search of his first major title and with the hopes of becoming the eighth straight first-time champion in a major. While Spieth seemingly dealt a mortal blow to those chances with a birdie to close out the third round, Kuchar was a direct beneficiary of Spieth’s underwhelming start that included three bogeys over his first four holes.
The two men were still tied and apart from the pack as they made the turn, setting the stage for a back-nine duel. Spieth’s bogey after sailing miles off line on the 13th and eventually dropping on the driving range gave Kuchar his first solo lead of the championship.
But from that point, the 23-year-old became an unstoppable force.
Two birdies in a four-hole stretch from Kuchar were no match for Spieth, who sandwiched a memorable eagle on No. 15 around a trio of birdies. By the time Kuchar’s ball buried into a greenside bunker on the final hole, he was two shots down and his chances of victory had essentially vanished.
“I can only control what I do and how I play,” Kuchar said. “Jordan is a great champion, and he certainly played that way in the finishing stretch today.”
The runner-up result marks Kuchar’s best career finish in a major, and his second career top-10 finish in a major. While he was denied the title of Champion Golfer of the Year, the only man to beat him this week at Royal Birkdale thinks he’ll summit the mountain sooner rather than later.
“I believe Matt Kuchar will win a major championship, and I believe that he’ll do it sometime soon,” Spieth said. “He’s a great champion and he’s such a great person, and he’s a great individual to look up to.”
Speaking to reporters with the sting of defeat still fresh, Kuchar opted to emphasize the positives from a memorable week on the Southport links. Four good rounds, including a final-round 69 that featured a number of timely shots, set the bar high.
But this week, against this particular opponent, it simply wasn’t enough.
“As tough as it is to be this close and finish second, I am sure that it will lead to me continuing to work hard, and push me harder to try to finish one place better,” Kuchar said. “I think things like these continue to push people. And I know that’s what it will do to me.”