Rash, Smallwood Lead Top 25 in PBA Tournament of Champions
LAS VEGAS (April 11, 2012) – Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., completed the Elite Field qualifying portion of the Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions Wednesday at Red Rock Lanes with a 20-game total of 4,845 pins, leading a group of 25 players who will join 11 current-season title winners for the final dash toward Sunday’s live ESPN stepladder finals starting Thursday morning.
Competition for the TOC title and the $80,000 first prize starts fresh Thursday with two nine-game qualifying rounds. After Thursday’s 18 games, the top 18 will advance to two nine-game rounds of head-to-head match play on Friday. The top four players after 36 games will advance to the finals Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Rash, a four-time PBA Tour title winner, averaged 242.25 to finish 43 pins ahead of 2011 TOC runner-up Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich.
Leading the group of Elite Field qualifiers was no more meaningful than finishing 25th as far as Rash was concerned, other than giving him an opportunity to get his game fine-tuned for the 36-game dash to the finals.
“My tempo is what I’ve worked on all year and that’s what I worked on,” Rash said. “Leading right now doesn’t matter. There’s no added prize money, no points. We drop pins and start over. The goal was just to survive these two days.
“Tomorrow is when the tournament starts. It’ll be a lot different tournament tomorrow – different players, a different level of talent, different approach.”
The final five games in the Elite Field resulted in an intense battle for the final spots. With one game to go, nine players were within 33 pins of the 25th spot. After 20 games, four players wound up tied for 24th place, resulting in a one-game roll-off with two of the four advancing. In the roll-off, Eddie VanDaniker of Essex, Md. (256) and defending champion Mika Koivuniemi of Hartland, Mich., with a strike on his final ball in the 10th frame (226), advanced. Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., who became the first woman ever to win a PBA Tour title in the 2010 Tournament of Champions, lost by a pin to Koivuniemi with a 225. Jim Pratt of Glendale, Ariz. (213) also was eliminated.
Joining the Round of 36 field Thursday are three-time 2011-12 titlists Jason Belmonte of Australia and Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla.; U.S. Open champ Pete Weber of St. Ann, Mo.; two-time winners Osku Palermaa of Finland and Mike Fagan of Dallas; England’s Stuart Williams and Dom Barrett; Colombia’s Andres Gomez; Wes Malott of Pflugerville, Texas; Eugene McCune of Munster, Ind., and Scott Newell of Deland, Fla.
Two of the longest-running streaks of television appearances in PBA history ended Wednesday night when PBA Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Ocala, Fla., missed the cut to the Round of 36, assuring that his PBA record streak of 26 consecutive years of TV appearances has ended. Steve Jaros of Yorkville, Ill., also saw his streak of 20 consecutive years with at least one television final come to an end.
Bowling fans can follow progress in the Tournament of Champions through the PBA’s exclusive coverage on Xtra Frame, the PBA’s online bowling channel; through live scoring on pba.com, and through the Professional Bowlers Association on Facebook and Twitter. Subscriptions to Xtra Frame are available on the pba.com home page.