SOUTHPORT, England – The recent run of first-time major-championship winners ended at seven on a dreary Sunday evening at Royal Birkdale as Jordan Spieth captured the 146th Open Championship. Perhaps no one was more disappointed than Matt Kuchar.
Kuchar, who at age 39 is still searching for his first major triumph, led Spieth by a shot with five holes to go, but then watched as Spieth played the next five holes in 5 under to roar ahead and win by three shots over Kuchar, who played that closing stretch in just 1 under.
“It’s crushing. It hurts. And it’s an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight,” 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.”
Kuchar’s bid for the Claret Jug – and his first major title – was squashed by an epic finish by a 23-year-old Spieth, who made three birdies and an eagle in that closing five-hole stretch to capture his third victory in a major and put himself a PGA Championship title away from the career grand slam.
As rain started to fall with a consistent drizzle, John Wood, Kuchar’s caddie, walked off the 18th green and headed to the locker room, where he was reduced to tears. Kuchar got emotional, as well. Waiting off the 18th green were his family – wife, Sybi, and their sons, Cameron and Carson. Kuchar thought they were in Colorado.
“A teary surprise,” Kuchar said. “And it’s great to have people to share things with, have loved ones here. … I think everybody around me is doing the best to put the most positive spin on this this week as possible.”
Zach Johnson made things clear after Spieth’s victory.
“What I would take away from this is that Jordan Spieth won it. I don’t think Matt Kuchar lost it,” said Johnson, before getting emotional. “… As much as I am genuinely happy for him (Jordan), I ache for Matt. He’s my neighbor, you know? I want them both to win.”
Kuchar’s runner-up showing was his best finish among what is now nine career top 10s in majors. All 10 of those finishes have come since 2010. Kuchar might not have prevailed Sunday at Royal Birkdale, where he made his major debut in 1998, but he’s getting closer to experiencing what the likes of Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson felt when they broke through for their first majors in the last two seasons.
“I believe Matt Kuchar will win a major championship,” Spieth said.
Kuchar remembers his 1998 Open start at Royal Birkdale vividly. Then 19 years old, Kuchar played a practice round with Paul Azinger and Payne Stewart.
“I remember I was close to turning pro after the British Open, and most of the Tour players that I had picked their brain and (they) said, ‘Matt, you seem like you’re ready to go pro. You seem like your game is ready. Probably a good time to strike while the iron is hot,’” Kuchar said. “Payne said, ‘Matt, stay in school. You only have four years to be a college kid. The PGA Tour is going to be here for the next 100 years. Don’t be a veteran that’s been out here 10, 20 years, and wishing (you) had those two years back to be a college kid.’”
Kuchar showed patience by staying four years at Georgia Tech, turning down six-figure endorsement deals. Nearly 20 years later, that patience is still on display. Kuchar knows he can’t force the issue. His time as a major champ might come soon – and then again, it might not. But Kuchar can certainly keep giving himself chances like he did this week at Royal Birkdale.
“I think things like these continue to push people, and I know that’s what it will do to me,” Kuchar said. “To be so close, to taste a victory and not be able to get it, hard. But I’ll look forward to the challenge of trying again.”