Love earns 23rd trip to U.S. Open

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a day such as this, it is probably best not to think back to those times when it all could have been avoided.

Davis Love III chuckled at the fact as he stood in the scoring area at Scioto Country Club, still a bit nervous about whether he had made it to the Olympic Club for next week's U.S. Open, knowing that he had two golden chances to take care of business last summer.

He missed earning his place in the 112th U.S. Open because he 3-putted the final green at the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional. And then he took one stroke too many at the British Open as well at Royal St. George's, denying him an automatic spot.

Love finished tied for 11th at the U.S. Open and tied for ninth at the British Open, but in both cases it was one shot too many to avoid 36-hole qualifying on Monday here. (Although his finish at the British gets him into this year's tournament at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's.)

But the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain took care of business at the sectional qualifier here, shooting 3-under-par 68 on Ohio State's Scarlett Course in the morning, then 1-over 71 at Scioto to gain one of 16 spots from the 132-player field.

"Last year statistically I hit the ball well enough at the U.S. Open and the British Open to win,'' Love said. "I definitely want to play.''

At age 48, Love might be tempted to pass on such an endurance test. He has earned more than $41 million in a PGA Tour career that has seen him win 20 times. He's had five top-10s at the U.S. Open, including a couple of close calls in 1995 and 1996.

But he's headed back for a 23rd time, having tied for sixth in a tournament in which it means nothing where you finish, just that you make it.

"I seem to play well in qualifying because there's no scoreboards. You just play," Love said.

Charlie Wi was the medalist at a sectional dominated by PGA Tour players. Blake Adams, Kevin Streelman, Brian Harman and D.A. Points were others to make it to San Francisco.

Also tied for sixth with Love was Steve Marino, who just missed the cut at the Memorial -- his first tournament since January due to a knee injury. Marino wasn't sure he even wanted to take part in the qualifier.

"It's very satisfying, because I've been out for so long,'' Marino said. "I'm thrilled. To play my way in after all this is very satisfying.''

Among those who failed to advance was Memorial Tournament runner-up Rory Sabbatini, 54-hole Memorial leader Spencer Levin (who could still make it if he moves into the top 60 in the world after this week) and 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis.

Love was coming off a tie for 16th at the Memorial, the first time he made the cut since the Honda Classic in March. A rib injury knocked him out at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and he did not return until The Players Championship.

And that makes his Monday success all the more satisfying.

"That was unbelievable,'' Love said. "It was a grind for sure. I don't think I've ever seen greens that hard, that fast -- except at the U.S. Open. But they're hard when you get there usually. They were unbelievable.''

Scioto has a long history. It was designed by Donald Ross and where Bob Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open. Jack Nicklaus grew up at the course and was taught by club pro Jack Grout. The venue will host the U.S. Senior Open in 2016.

Aside from some wider fairways and thinner rough, it played a bit like the U.S. Open a week early.

"I did a really nice job the last four or five holes of concentrating,'' Love said. "And that helps get you ready for the U.S. Open.''

Love first played the U.S. Open in 1988, having missed out on qualifying for the tournament when it was played at the Olympic Club the year prior. He became fully exempt for the tournament for years, and finished a shot behind Steve Jones at Oakland Hills in 1996. A year later, he won his only major championship, the PGA, at Winged Foot.

Love's last victory came at the 2008 Children's Miracle Network Classic, but he's had some good runs in majors of late, tying for sixth at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and then his strong finishes last year at both Opens.

He missed the cut at the 1998 U.S. Open played at Olympic.

"I was pretty good all day, and it feels good to make it,'' Love said. "I'm pretty happy about it.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.