Finland native Mika Koivuniemi won his second Round1 Japan Cup and a $71,700 first prize at Round1 Stadium Diver City Tokyo Plaza Bowling Center with a 268-164 victory over Japan’s Yoshihiro Kaji, denying Kaji’s bid to become the first Japanese player to win the event in 24 years.
The 45-year-old Koivuniemi, wearing glasses for the first time in a championship round, started the title match with eight strikes before a 10-pin in the 9th frame ended his bid for a 300. The finals aired Sunday on ESPN.
“I got glasses about two years ago and started to practice with them, but I didn’t like them at all,” the Hartland, Mich., resident said. “I bowled a couple of games in the 180s with them on, so I took them off and shot a 300 game. After that, I didn’t even try them again in competition. I just wore them when I was driving at night.
“I told my wife I would start wearing them after I won my 10th title, but after I screwed up a couple of times during the World Series of Bowling, I decided to try them again and they felt okay. So I decided to test my luck, and I bowled with them on in Japan.
“It worked,” he added with a laugh.
Kaji started the title match with back-to-back open frames and never had a chance after that. Takeo Sakai (1988) and Ken Taniguchi (1985) are the only Japanese bowlers who have won the Japan Cup.
Koivuniemi made it into the championship match by winning a sudden death rolloff against reigning PBA Player of the Year Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., in one of the season’s most exciting matches. Rash converted the 2-10 split in the 9th frame and threw three strikes in the 10th to force Koivuniemi to mark in his 10th for the win.
Koivuniemi, however, left the 4-9 split and got one pin for a 223-223 tie. In the one-ball sudden-death rolloff, both players threw strikes on their first two shots, and both left a single pin on their third attempts, before Koivuniemi struck while Rash left a 9-pin on their fourth shots.
Championship: Mika Koivuniemi, Finland ($71,700) def. Yoshihiro Kaji, Japan ($38,500), 268-164.
Semifinal Round (losers earned $17,900): Koivuniemi def. Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 223-223, 10-10, 10-10, 9-9, 10-9; Kaji def. Osku Palermaa, Finland, 235-225.
Round of 8 (losers earned $9,000): Koivuniemi def. Yoshihiro Sakuraba, Japan, 228-171; Rash def. Parker Bohn III, Jackson, N.J., 223-202; Palermaa def. Takeshi Suda, Japan, 268-257; Kaji def. Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 226-213.