REUTERS - Former British Open champion Justin Leonard led a host of big-name players who fought their way through qualifying tournaments for the U.S. Open on Monday.
With 10 sectional sites throughout the country, little-known competitors and former champions alike battled for the chance to qualify for the June 12-15 tournament at the Pinehurst No. 2 course in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
The 41-year-old Leonard, who won the 1997 British Open, finished in a three-way tie for the top spot with a 36-hole total of five-under 137 at the Brookside Golf and Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.
“It is nice because it’s been three or four years since I’ve been in the U.S. Open” Leonard told reporters. “It will be fun playing in Pinehurst; it’s one of my favorites.”
He was joined by South Korean youngster Noh Seung-yul, who captured his first PGA tour title in April, while Britain’s Paul Casey, American Bo Van Pelt and Australians Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby were also among the 16 qualifiers from Columbus.
Former Masters champions Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman failed to qualify, as did PGA Tour regulars K.J. Choi, Ryo Ishikawa and Camilo Villegas.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh, a three-time major champion, withdrew from the event because of a back injury.
J.B. Holmes, who last month won on the PGA Tour for the first time in more than six years after recovering from brain surgery in 2011, continued his resurgence by qualifying at the tournament in Memphis, Tennessee.
He was joined by former PGA Champion David Toms.
Former world number one David Duval and PGA Tour winners Sang-Moon Bae and Tim Clark, however, all failed to qualify.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury