ARLINGTON, Texas - Joe DiMaggio. Brett Favre. Roger Federer. Byron Nelson. Richard Petty.
These names are synonymous with some of the most notable streaks in sports history, and Australian Jason Belmonte is making his bid to be bowling's addition to the star-studded list.
Belmonte's record run has included back-to-back wins at the Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions, three consecutive PBA Player of the Year honors and an unprecedented trio of victories at the United States Bowling Congress Masters.
The 2016 USBC Masters begins today at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis, and Belmonte once again will enter as the defending champion, a role he has assumed each year since 2014.
The unique double-elimination format seems to suit the powerful two-hander, who was the first bowler since 1965 to successfully defend a Masters title when he won in 2014. He then became the first to win in three consecutive years, joining USBC and PBA Hall of Famer, Mike Aulby, as one of the tournament's only three-time winners.
"It's hard to put into words what my accomplishments at the Masters means," said Belmonte, who owns 12 PBA titles, including five majors. "I'm proud of what I have done. However, I am not the kind of guy who is content with that. I am always pushing myself to strive for more, and that's why I'm as hungry to win my fourth Masters as I was the previous three."
Belmonte will battle a sold-out field at Woodland Bowl as 384 of the best bowlers in the world look to capture the coveted Masters trophy and $50,000 top prize in 2016.
All players will bowl 15 games of qualifying over three days to determine the match-play field. The top 63 players will join Belmonte in the three-game, double-elimination bracket, where he knows anything can happen.
As the defending champion, Belmonte is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the bracket, but bowling qualifying will give him a chance to improve his seeding as well as get a feel for the bowling center and oil pattern. In 2014, he was the tournament leader after qualifying, and, in 2015, he earned the No. 10 seed for match play.
"The Masters is so unique in the fact that you just have to win matches, and depending on your opponent, you can create different strategies for every match," Belmonte said. "The idea of bowling with five different balls in five different parts of the lane against five opponents isn't unusual, but it would be crazy in any other event. In a three-game total-pin match, the scoring pace of the field is irrelevant. The focus is only on the pair you are on."
On the way into the record books last year, Belmonte topped collegiate bowler. A.J. Johnson of Oswego, Ill., 202-157, in the championship match. Belmonte earned his spot in the final by defeating USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, Mo., 232-210. Weber owns 10 major titles but hasn't won the Masters.
Regardless of how the 2016 Masters turns out, Belmonte already has enjoyed a major triumph this year. He and his wife, Kimberly, welcomed their third child on Jan. 21, but the life-changing event has not taken his focus off his preparation.
"Bowling is always on my mind, just maybe not as much the past couple of weeks," said Belmonte, who finished fourth at the PBA Tournament of Champions on Sunday and was the runner-up to Weber at the PBA Tournament of Champions at Woodland Bowl in 2013. "I am still practicing when I can, as I want to be ready for the February swing of majors. I dropped a few pounds and strengthened my legs and core to help with the long formats coming up. I will practice a little more a few days before I have to go and then practice a little when I'm State-side."
Belmonte's visit to the United States began with this week's PBA FireLake Tournament of Champions and it will conclude with the post-Masters Barbasol PBA Players Championship in Columbus, Ohio.
The official practice day was yesterday. Three days of now follow, beginning with round 1 today. Match play will take place Feb. 12 and 13 and will determine the five players for the championship round. Those five bowlers will compete in the stepladder finals, live on ESPN at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, Feb. 14.
The 2016 Masters will feature a total prize fund of $260,000 and 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.