Belmonte Again Ready to Defend Title at 2018 Masters

by Matt Cannizzaro, USBC Communications 0

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Often, while most of Orange, New South Wales, Australia, is asleep, Jason Belmonte is on the lanes honing his skills.

The late-night practice isn't done to be secretive, it's done because being the best bowler in the world, as well as trying to be the world's best husband and parent, takes sacrifice and a well-balanced schedule.

So, the 17-time Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion hits the lanes when his wife, Kimberly, and their three children comfortably are in bed, most recently, preparing to put his title on the line at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Masters.

The event will take place April 9-15 at the Oncenter Convention Center in Syracuse, the 48-lane custom tournament venue that will be home to the 2018 USBC Open Championships until July. The two events are sharing the biggest stage in bowling for the first time since 2011.

The 2018 Masters will conclude live on ESPN on April 15 at 1 p.m. Eastern, with the winner taking home a $30,000 top prize.

Belmonte is in a familiar position, having won the USBC Masters a record four times, and he feels the unique format helps make the effects of traveling almost 10,000 miles a little less of a factor.

"I've been known to start events kind of slow, usually because I'm a little tired or jetlagged, and my body and brain aren't working well together yet," said Belmonte, who also won the Masters three consecutive times from 2013-2015. "This will be the first event of the trip, and the format, along with being the defending champion, will take off some of the pressure of having to get off to a blazing start."

As the defending champion, the 34-year-old two-hander is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the double-elimination match-play bracket at the Masters, but he can improve his seeding by bowling well during the 15 games of qualifying.

In previous years as the reigning champion, Belmonte finished qualifying first (2014), tied for ninth (2015) and first (2016), and he has no interest in using his free pass this year in Syracuse.

"I definitely want to try to stay well ahead of that 64th spot, and I don't want to have to use the defending champion clause," said Belmonte, a four-time PBA Player of the Year. "But, I feel I can be patient and let my body get comfortable."

Belmonte has been home since the conclusion of a four-event swing on the Go Bowling! PBA Tour in late February, and while that stint did yield a doubles title with Bill O'Neill at the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship presented by BowlerX.com, it would be tough to harness the confidence and momentum from that successful swing because so much time has passed.

Heading into the Masters, there likely will be some talk of an injury Belmonte suffered a couple days before leaving Australia, when a trailer rolled over his right foot, but he's confident it won't be a factor. He has a bruise that's healing, and it's a little sore when he walks, but it's not broken. He expects to be at 100 percent in time for the start of qualifying Tuesday.

All players in the sold-out field of 360 will bowl 15 games of qualifying over three days, five games each day, and total pinfall will determine the 63 players who will join Belmonte in the match-play bracket.

Match play, consisting of three-game total-pinfall matches, will take place throughout the day Friday and Saturday. The final five players will advance to the televised championship stepladder.

The Masters also will provide Belmonte the chance to join the late Earl Anthony and Pete Weber as the third player in PBA history to win 10 major championships.

That opportunity got away from Belmonte at the recent PBA Tournament of Champions, where he finished fourth, and the Barbasol PBA Players Championship, where he was the top seed and lost to Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Michigan, in the title match, 259-239.

"At the first two majors this year, when I had a chance to tie the record, it wasn't in my mind," Belmonte said. "I certainly would like to have one shot back from the Tournament of Champions, but I bowled the best game I could at the Players Championship. Tom bowled a great game at me. Winning a 10th major would be incredibly special, but I won't be thinking about it. I just want to stay focused on knocking down as many pins as I can."

The 2018 Masters will feature a total prize fund of $270,000 and again is a major event on the PBA Tour.

All qualifying and match play rounds of the Masters will be covered live on Xtra Frame, the PBA's online bowling channel. For subscription information, visit PBA.com.

For more information on the USBC Masters, visit BOWL.com/Masters.

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