The big names continued their 2021 form as the Professional Bowlers Association season kicked off with the 2022 PBA Players Championship.
The 2022 PBA Players Championship commenced Friday (USA time) with regional qualification rounds held over two days. It’s the first event for the season, coinciding with the first major for the year.
Five regions held qualification rounds in local bowling alleys. Qualification consists of four rounds of seven games, before the top five move on to a step ladder final.
It is a chance for those who dominated 2021 to continue their form. Could Australia’s champion Jason Belmonte add to his majors haul after spending the latter part of 2021 back home in Australia? Can ‘Ice Man’ Sam Cooley add another title to his cabinet after bringing home the 2021 PBA Cheetah Championship?
Hitting the lanes at Bowlero West End in Richmond, VA, the East region hosted the return of 2021 Chris Schenkel PBA Bowler of the Year, Kyle Troup. Taking out this event last year, as well as the PBA Tour Playoff, Troup cashed at an incredible 13 events in 2021 for a total of US$496,900 in prize money.
Troup wouldn’t have it all his own way, with seasoned campaigners Bill O’Neill and Parker Bohn III also qualifying in the East.
Round one saw Canadian Zachary Wilkins lead proceedings, throwing a solid bock of 1633 for his seven games, to average 233.29. Troup lagged 97 pins adrift.
Troup then brought himself into contention in round two. Dropping 1670 for the round, he found his way into third position. Chasing his first tour victory, Brandon Runk stayed consistent to take the lead, 69 pins ahead, with Wilkins falling out of the top five.
Graham Fach took the lead from Runk in round three, with Bill O’Neill jumping back into the fray climbing to fourth spot, and Troup holding onto third. O’Neill was looking for his first win since this event back in 2016.
Fach held on in the last round, finishing with a total of 6576. His average of 234.86 well ahead of the others, with Runk the only bowler within 100 pins. O’Neill and Troup remained consistent, to book their spots in the step ladder. Patrick Dombrowski was the last qualifier.
AMF University Lanes in Tampa, FL hosted the southern battle. The region full of strong bowlers, none more so then PBA Hall of Fame members Tommy Jones and Norm Duke. With both bowlers going winless in 2021, this the first chance to hold the trophy for season 2022.
From round one Jones was the one to beat. Finishing round four 293 pins ahead of the next best, he never surrendered the lead throughout. His average of 234.86 a positive sign for the event and the season to come.
Veteran David Stouffer showed his experience to consistently remain in the top five. Still chasing his maiden title, he remained focused throughout.
The ever reliable Duke, showed again why he is one of the best ever. Never giving in, he worked his way into third by the end of round four, having not been in the cut prior. He gave himself every chance to get win number 41 for his career.
Toby Sambueno and DJ Archer filled the final qualification positions.
The toughest qualification field for the event would be at AMF West Lanes Milwaukee, WI. The Southwest division included television event regulars such as Sean Rash, AJ Johnson, EJ Tackett, Tom Smallwood and Wes Malott. The stepladder promised to be a quality showing.
Alternating first and second spots, Rash and Johnson battled it out in every round. Rash was the eventual top qualifier, a mere 15 pins ahead of Johnson. The bowlers averaged 228.75 and 228.21 respectively for their 28 games. Rash, a former PBA Player of the Year, will bekeen to add another major trophy to his cabinet.
EJ Tackett continued on his consistent, no fuss way. Just outside the top five for the first three rounds, his class shone through to finish third. Rounding out the top five was Matt Russo and youngster Bailey Mavrick.
Smallwood (sixth) and Malott (14th) fought on admirably, however couldn’t break into the cut by the end.
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With a large contingent of international bowlers, AMF Garland Lanes in Garland, TX was home to the Southwest Region qualifications. Making his return to the PBA after multiple wins in 2021, could Shawn Maldonado continue his hot form? Other prominent bowlers included England’s Dom Barrett and local hope, Texan Stuart Williams.
With seven career PBA titles under his belt, Barrett asserted his dominance from the outset. Perching himself atop the leader board throughout all rounds, he finished with a 232.32 average, 160 pins ahead. His form is looking good for a crack at his first title since the 2019 Kuwait Open.
Maldonado stayed in touch for most of the qualification, before a disappointing third round put an end to his hopes. The US Open on February 6 is now his next opportunity to recoup his 2021 form.
Mexican Arturo Quintero was strong late to slip into second spot. 2021 Tournament of Champions winner Francois Lavoie and consistent campaigner Brad Miller were the next best, with Kyle Sherman in fifth.
Local hope Williams missed the cut by 81 pins to finish 10th.
All Australian eyes were on the lanes at Bowlero Cerritos in Cerritos, CA. World’s best, Australian, Jason Belmonte returned from his break, along side fellow Australian Sam Cooley.
Cooley will be hoping to continue where he left off after his win in 2021. They wouldn’t have it their own way however, with multiple title winners including Jacob Butturff and Anthony Simonsen to contend with.
Butturff and Belmonte, as they did in the 2019 PBA World Championship, jostled for top spot throughout the rounds. Buttruff, showing why he is one to watch, was only headed in round two, going on to finish strongly with 6316 (225.57 avg), 335 pins ahead of Jake Peters in second.
Belmonte, looking to add to his record haul of 13 majors, stayed in it all the way. He led at the end of round two, before a disappointing third and fourth rounds by his standards.
However, it was not enough to knock him out of the top five, holding on for fourth spot. Belmonte will be sure to discuss ball selection and lane transition with his Storm Bowling team before the stepladder. Wesley Low Jnr showed that experience at the top level isn’t essential, jumping into third.
Newcomer Tyler Cortez Schenck continued the inexperienced trend, filling the last spot.
Australia’s other hope, Cooley, missed out after an agonising sixth. Holding a spot in the cut after round one, he couldn’t hang on as others moved around him.
Step Ladder Final
Bowlers now move onto the regional step ladder finals next weekend, with the only way to progress to keep winning. Regional winners will then go on to the television event on January 29, a another step ladder, to see who takes the title.
Full results can be found at pba.com
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