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, Leonard was among the 16 players at the Columbus site who qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst on June 12-15.
“It’ll be fun,” said Leonard, who will 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 Monday at Brookside and Scioto.
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.”
Pampling played Pinehurst when it hosted the U.S. Open in 2005.
“But not for many days,” he said with a laugh. “I saw the hay a lot. Hopefully there’s not as much hay. I guess it’s changed a lot from the last time. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. I’m looking for something different this time.”
A year ago, 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 playoff for the final spots.