COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After three years of coming up short in qualifying, Justin Leonard earned a return to the U.S. Open.
The 1997 British Open champion, who has won 12 times on the PGA Tour but not since 2008, was among the 16 players at the Columbus site who qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst June 12-15.
“It’ll be fun,” said Leonard, who’ll turn 42 on the day of the Open’s final round. “And Pinehurst is one of my favorites, so a little extra incentive there.”
Leonard was co-medalist through 36 holes on Monday at Brookside and Scioto. He tied for 15th at the Open in Pinehurst in 1999 when Payne Stewart won and tied for 23rd in the 2005 championship won by Michael Campbell.
Among those also qualifying were Bo Van Pelt, Mark Wilson, Kevin Tway and Luke Guthrie, South Korea’s Seung-Yul Noh and Hyung Sung Kim, Australia’s Aaron Baddeley and Rod Pampling and England’s Paul Casey.
Playing 18 holes on each of two difficult courses after playing four rounds nearby at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, Baddeley said it’s a grueling way to spend what is usually a day off.
“To come out and play good is a bonus,” he said after tying for 37th at the Memorial on Sunday. “I played really nice last week. I made like a million birdies. I just made way too many bogeys.”
The Columbus site featured the most PGA Tour players. Another big tour site was in Memphis, Tennessee, where David Toms, J.B. Holmes, Joe Ogilvie and David Gossett were among the 13 to earn spots. Gossett, a former PGA Tour winner, was an alternate out of 18-hole local qualifying.
Now that Monday’s qualifying is over, 150 players are in the U.S. Open. Six spots remaining will be for anyone who gets into the top 60 in the world ranking after this week, and the rest will be distributed to alternates. The order of alternates was not released.
A year ago in Columbus, Justin Thomas came down the stretch with a shot at qualifying only to finish bogey-bogey at Brookside and miss making the field by a shot. This year, he hit his second shot to the closing hole to almost exactly the same spot but was able to make a par. He finished at 5-under and shared medalist honors with Leonard and Noh.
“It’s cool to finish in the same spot and do that. I played so well last year and those last two holes were the difference,” he said. “This’ll be my first major and I’m looking forward to a great experience.”
There were also those who kicked away quality chances to make the Open field. Danny Lee, who won the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst in 2008, was at 7-under on the day when he triple-bogeyed the 13th and then doubled the 14th at Scioto. Michael Putnam was among the leaders until he played his final six holes in five over and had to go to a 5-man playoff for the final three spots.
He then lost out on the second hole and will be an alternate.
— In San Francisco, Jason Gore failed to earn one of five spots. Gore played in the final group in 2005 and was referred to as the “Prince of Pinehurst.” One of the spots went to Kevin Sutherland, a former World Golf Championship winner. Sutherland recently received an exemption to the U.S. Senior Open this summer after turning 50. He last played a PGA Tour event in August.
— In Houston, former U.S. Junior Amateur champion Cory Whitsett went 66-66 and was medalist by five shots to lead three qualifiers at Lakeside Country Club. Whitsett, an All-American at Alabama, was on the winning Walker Cup team last year.
— NCAA champion Cameron Wilson of Stanford missed by one shot qualifying for the U.S. Open in Purchase, New York.
— Henrik Norlander of Sweden earned one of two spots in Roswell, Georgia.
— Billy Hurley III, a former Navy officer, earned one of four spots at Rockville, Maryland. Taylor Funk, the 18-year-old son of Fred Funk, shot 76 in his second round at Woodmont and missed by three shots.
— Aron Price of Australia got the fourth and final spot from Vero Beach, Florida, without facing a playoff. His 142 tied him with Landon Michelson of Rice, who had rounds of 71-71 at Quail Valley. Michelson, however, realized he signed for a 70. He put down a Instead of a playoff against Price for the last spot, Michelson was disqualified.
— At Springfield, Ohio, Brian Stuard won one of three spots by going 64-65. Chris Thompson and amateur Will Grimmer also qualified.
— In Creswell, Oregon, where 50 players battled for two spots, Zac Blair and Clayton Rask earned trips to Pinehurst.
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