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.
“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.”
Li shoots 63
Li Haotong crept into unexpected contention with the round of his life.
It didn’t win him the Claret Jug. It definitely earned him a place at the Masters.
The 21-year-old Chinese golfer became the fourth player to shoot 63 in the final round of a major, after Jodie Mudd (Birkdale, 1991), Payne Stewart (Royal St. George’s, 1993) and Henrik Stenson (Troon, 2016).
Li said he felt at home at Royal Birkdale because it was similar to the course he plays in Shanghai, Lake Malaren.
“Unbelievable, actually,” he said. “I can’t explain.
“Glad to see I holed everything. So quite happy out there.”
The 63 would have tied a record for a major if Branden Grace had not set a new record of 62 on Saturday.
McIlroy’s major drought
Rory McIlroy has gone 10 majors without winning, the longest stretch since he turned pro. He at least felt he made progress at the British Open, and he has reason to be excited for the next major.
Despite a horrid start at Royal Birkdale — 5 over through six holes Thursday — he bounced back with rounds of 68-69-67 to tie for fourth, his best finish in a major since he was fourth alone in the 2015 Masters.
And the PGA Championship is at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, where McIlroy has won twice.
“I’m excited for the next two weeks,” he said. “Quail Hollow, I’ve played well there.”