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Top 10 PBA Stories of 2009
At any rate, here's my unofficial Top 10 list for 2009, ranked somewhat in order of "big"-ness.
Chris Barnes makes 7 out of 10 shows to close out 2008-2009 season
The always-consistent Mr. Barnes got off to a bit of a rough start in the first half of the defense of his 2007-2008 PBA Player of the Year season.
Come January, however, he began to light up the lanes starting with a 4th place finish in the National Bowling Stadium Championship. After the USBC Masters, Barnes cranked it up a notch, finishing 3rd, 5th, 1st and 1st the next four weeks, to put himself in position to steal Player of the Year from season-long front-runner Wes Malott.
A bone-crunching stone 8 in the semifinal match of the season-ending U.S. Open ended the dream however, and Barnes ultimately finished third behind Malott and Duke for year-end honors. But it was another solid year for the man from Texas, who is still the unofficial "best bowler on Tour" according to his fellow players.
Carolyn Dorin-Ballard tosses 20-bagger in Women's Series Showdown
What do you do to top a legendary career and yet another successful season on the PBA Women's Series presented by USBC tour? How about you throw more strikes in a row on TV than anyone (man or woman) in the history of the sport?
That's what CDB did during the finals of the season-ending PBA Women's Series Showdown at the Kegel Training Center, steamrolling her opponents to claim the $25,000 top prize. The guys on the men's Tour were probably just glad they had their own separate show.
Patrick Allen wins two nail-biters in Nevada
After struggling through much of the first half of the 08-09 season, PA arrived in Nevada with a few scores to settle.
First in Reno at the National Bowling Stadium Championship, the colorful lefty took on all-time titles King Walter Ray Williams, Jr. in the final. Williams needed just strike and nine-spare in the 10th frame to win and, after getting the first, Allen probably assumed it would be a runner up finish. But WRW's second pitch in the 10th was DOA and left a pocket 8-10 split to hand the title over to PA.
As if that drama wasn't enough, Allen was involved in yet another incredible finish two events later at the H&R Block Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas. His good friend and roommate Rhino Page pushed his buddy to the limit, carrying a possible 279 game to the 10th after PA sat on the bench with 267.
Needing the same fill in the 10th as Walter Ray in Reno, Page also got the first, then sailed one wide for a disastrous four-count and 263 score. Although Allen had two more trophies on the mantle, those two probably also earned him a few premature gray hairs as well.
Rhino Page rolls first televised 300 in Japan Cup
It wasn't all heartbreak for the man they call Rhino in 2009. After bouncing back from his loss in the T of C with a win in the Lumber Liquidators Shark Championship, Page headed to the Japan Cup and qualified for the telecast.
In his quarterfinal match, Page ran the table and threw twelve straight bombs for the first televised 300 game in the event's long history. The 300 was also worth a $100,000 bonus, which Page was not even aware of until his good buddy Allen told him after the match.
Michael Wilbon calls out Wes Malott on PTI
In the midst of a dominating season, Wes Malott ran into some controversy when he decided to skip out on the PBA's inaugural GEICO Plastic Ball Championship.
The folks at PTI found an interview that had Wes criticizing the concept and Wilbon, an avid bowler, jumped all over the Big Nasty like a gold-digger at a Tiger Woods autograph signing. After hearing the digs, Malott fired back following another win, and the two hooked up for a grudge match to settle it all during the King of Bowling.
Turned out, Wilbon was the only one to beat Wes during the five-week series, albeit with the help of a hefty 50+ pin handicap and Wes' use of a plastic ball. But the ESPN personality walked away with a newfound respect for pro bowlers and the sport of bowling.
Norm Duke fails in attempt to capture fourth straight major
This story wasn't about Norm's failure (he failed to make match play in the H&R Block Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas) nearly as much as it was about the magnitude of the accomplishment in just getting to that point.
Unlike other sports like golf and tennis, major bowling tournament wins seem to be much more difficult to amass, with the all-time leader sitting on 10 (Earl Anthony).
So Duke winning three straight (the World Championship twice, with the U.S. Open sandwiched in between) was one of the most amazing feats ever accomplished in the history of the sport. The fact that Duke was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame the same week he was going for the fourth consecutive was therefore, pretty darn appropriate.
World Series of Bowling makes debut
For the first time ever, the PBA conducted a string of events in a single city (Detroit) in order to attract the greatest bowlers from all throughout the world (not just the U.S.).
Although hard-core fans fretted over losing TV ratings due to events appearing on tape delay (a worry that didn't come to pass once the ratings actually came in), the WSOB indeed brought the largest influx of international talent ever seen on the Tour, in addition to a number of other significant fan benefits.
The best part of the WSOB may have been the wall-to-wall coverage provided by Xtra Frame, which broadcast more than 100 hours of live bowling action in addition to a nightly highlight and interview show called PBA: 39x60. Every fan who ponied up their $7.99 per month, totally got their money's worth for those six weeks in August/September, plus all of the additional coverage that followed once the shows began airing on ESPN.
Wes Malott dominates King of Bowling with two perfect games
Despite dominating the Tour for the entire season, Wes Malott had to sweat out the PBA Player of the Year race until the final match in the season-ending U.S. Open, where both Norm Duke and Chris Barnes had chances to surpass him with a win. Mike Scroggins prevented that from happening, but Malott more than proved his worthiness during the five-week King of Bowling Series immediately following the season.
Taking on winners of semifinal matches pitting top 10 players against one another each week, Malott averaged an eye-popping 272.6 for his five-week run, posting an average margin of victory of more than 40 pins a game. He also electrified the crowd on hand and the viewers at home with two 300 games in the last three weeks of the series. King of them all, indeed!
Jason Belmonte quiets critics after receiving Commissioner's exemptions
I guess coming in as the top amateur in the world and then leading the PBA World Championship qualifying by more than 300 pins doesn't get you as much as it used to. Because when PBA bigwigs floated Belmo two Commissioner's exemptions into a couple early-season events after the WC, fans and fellow players went nuts, crying that the two-handed Aussie sensation hadn't earned them.
Fast forward to the Bowling Foundation Long Island Open, where Belmo slummed it in the TQR to earn a spot in the field, then proceeded to qualify second for the stepladder TV finals. After knocking off Bill O'Neill in the semis, Belmonte cruised by tournament leader Mike Fagan for the title, earning a full exemption for the 09-10 season and leading to a barrage of national media coverage. The classy Aussie has never rubbed it in the critics' faces, however, and looks to be one of the most fan and media-friendly players the Tour has seen in some time.
Tom Smallwood goes from zero to hero
Heading into 2009, Tom Smallwood had just been laid off from his job at GM and had no idea what he was going to do to feed his wife and kids. Dusting off the old bowling balls, he decided to give the Tour a shot by bowling Tour Trials. He finished 3rd and won a spot on Tour.
Then, he did the unthinkable...he was instantly competitive on Tour, making a show in the Scorpion Championship (where he finished T3), and qualifying for the live finals of the PBA World Championship in December.
After knocking off Bill O'Neill in the semis, the only thing standing in the way of Smallwood's storybook ending was...reigning PBA Player of the Year Wes Malott, of course. Smallwood bowled an excellent game and, needing a strike on the first shot in the 10th, threw a perfect one to complete the Cinderella story and become the PBA's World Champion.
Media flocked to the story...can a Hollywood film be far behind? My pick to play Smallwood is another Tom...Cruise that is!
Well, that's my own personal list of the best PBA stories of 2009. What do you think? Did I miss any great stories or maybe put these ones in the wrong order based on importance? Will 2010 be even better? Bowling fans can only hope for as much, because '09 was almost as good a year as it gets!
by Jason Thomas