PBA Player of Year race intensifies

by Bob Johnson 0

Australia’s Jason Belmonte is trying to become just the fourth player in Professional Bowlers Assn. history to earn PBA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors, but PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke and a pair of spoilers will try to derail Belmonte’s bid in the finals of the Pepsi PBA Elite Players Championship Sunday on ESPN.

The last of eight PBA World Series of Bowling finals will air at 1 p.m. Eastern. First prize is $35,000.

Belmonte, who came into the 2011-12 season with one title (won during his PBA Rookie of the Year season in 2008-09), will try to become a four-time titlist when he faces Duke, Mike Scroggins and Mike DeVaney in the four-player eliminator finals of the Elite Players event.

While the PBA Tournament of Champions concludes the regular season the following week in Las Vegas, this tournament may have a strong impact on the Player of the Year race, not to mention some other prestigious PBA honors.

If Belmonte wins and can then win the PBA Player of the Year voting, he would join Mike Aulby, Tommy Jones and Chris Barnes as the fourth player to win both Rookie and Player of the Year honors. He also would be the first non-American player to accomplish that feat.

Belmonte will make a record-tying fifth World Series of Bowling television appearance, matching Sean Rash’s mark, also set during the 2011-12 WSOB. The Australian star previously won the Chameleon Open and the GEICO Shark Open, and finished fourth in the PBA World Championship and in the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship (with partner Pete Weber).

Duke, on the other hand, made a bold statement in the Player of the Year race this past Sunday when he won the Xtra Frame Tour Dick Weber PBA Playoffs presented by Hammer for his third title of the season and the 37th of his career, moving him into sole possession of third place on the PBA career titles list.

Duke won his 36th title in the Xtra Frame Detroit Open presented by Track, which tied him with Pete Weber on the titles list. Walter Ray Williams Jr. (47 titles) and Earl Anthony (43) are 1-2 on that list.

Duke, the 1994 and 2000 PBA Player of the Year, has a chance to become the fourth player in PBA history to win POY honors more than twice. Williams (seven times), Anthony (six) and Roth (four) are the POY leaders.

This week’s spoilers could be Scroggins or DeVaney. Scroggins in an eight-time PBA Tour champion who last won the 2010 Etonic Don Johnson Eliminator in Columbus, Ohio. DeVaney, a two-time titlist, last won the Scorpion Open during the 2009 World Series of Bowling in Allen Park, Mich.

Pending the outcome of the Elite Players Championship, Osku Palermaa and Mike Fagan will be factors in the POY chase heading into the TOC. Each has won two each titles this season, including a major. Weber, with his U.S. Open win, and Rash, with his record-setting WSOB performance, also are POY dark horses.

A PBA Elite Players Championship pre-event show will be webcast at no cost on pba.com’s Xtra Frame online bowling channel starting today, with a follow-up post-game show immediately following Sunday’s ESPN telecast. To subscribe to Xtra Frame, visit pba.com and click on the Xtra Frame logo. The monthly subscription rate is $7.99; a full-year subscription is $64.99.

Xtra Frame will provide complete coverage of all qualifying and match play rounds of the PBA Tournament of Champions, beginning Monday. The Tournament of Champions concludes with live ESPN coverage on Sunday, April 15, at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.