RENO, Nev. - If the 2021 U.S. Open were a class in school, Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, would give himself an A-minus for his first two days of competition at the National Bowling Stadium.
The seven-time Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion and his fellow competitors have been tested twice in the form of challenging oil patterns, and he has set the grading curve as the overall leader through two rounds of qualifying.
Butturff passed the week's first test with flying colors, averaging nearly 240 in the opening round, and while Wednesday's flat 40-foot lane condition yielded much lower scores, he again considered his performance a success.
The 26-year-old left-hander was able to expand his lead over the 108-player field and tops the standings with a 16-game total of 3,575, a 223.44 average. He posted a 1,914 total on Tuesday's 36-foot oil pattern and added 1,661 on Wednesday.
Former Junior Team USA member Brent Boho of Indianapolis is 77 pins back with 3,498 and followed by Zac Tackett of Huntington, Indiana (3,473), Matthew Sanders of Evansville, Indiana (3,463), and Michael Davidson of Versailles, Ohio (3,443).
At the end of the day, Butturff was most proud of how he handled things mentally.
"I started struggling in the middle of today's block and saw some of the other lefties were having trouble, too, so I started moving around, which wasn't the right strategy," said Butturff, the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018. "I went back to my original game plan, which was to stay closer to the gutter, and it paid off. I did fall out of the lead at one point, and that's when I reminded myself how easily focusing on one game can take you out of it mentally. The U.S. Open is very much a mental test, too."
The first three days of competition will include eight-game blocks for all competitors, each on a different oil pattern, after which, the field will be cut to the top 36 to face a fourth oil pattern for eight additional games.
On Thursday, the players' invisible opponent will be in the form of a 44-foot oil pattern. The four patterns this week will range from 36-44 feet.
"Patterns 1 and 3 were the two best looks I had in the practice sessions, so I need to capitalize on that by making the best shots I can again tomorrow," Butturff said. "I'm actually pretty speechless about today and how I bowled on what I knew would be the toughest pattern. I am extremely happy with how I refocused and bowled the last three games today, and I'm very confident going into the last day of qualifying tomorrow."
Competition at the National Bowling Stadium resumes Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern.
Total pinfall for 32 games will determine the 24 players for the round-robin portion of the event, and their 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decide the five players for the championship stepladder.
Each round of qualifying and match play at the 2021 U.S. Open is being broadcast live at BowlTV.com and simulcast on FloBowling.
The U.S. Open will conclude live on Fox Sports' FS1 on Sunday as part of the 2021 PBA Tour television schedule, airing from 2-4 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home the coveted green jacket and a $30,000 top prize. The event is considered a major on the PBA Tour.
The majority of the competitors this week earned direct entry into the event based on their on-lane performances throughout 2020, while 43 bowlers advanced to the 108-player field through Sunday's eight-game pre-tournament qualifier.
Australia's Jason Belmonte is the defending champion at the U.S. Open and looking for his record 14th major title, along with the opportunity to be the only player in history to complete the Super Slam two times.
The feat includes winning the U.S. Open, United States Bowling Congress Masters, PBA Tournament of Champions, PBA World Championship and PBA Players Championship, and hall of famer Mike Aulby is the only other person to accomplish it.
Belmonte, a 37-year-old two-hander, moved up 17 places in the standings Wednesday and finished the second day of the 2021 U.S. Open in 11th place with a 3,386 total, a 211.63 average.
Only four bowlers - Andy Varipapa, Don Carter, Dick Weber and Dave Husted - have successfully defended their U.S. Open titles. Husted was the last to accomplish the feat, doing so in 1996.
For more information on the U.S. Open, visit BOWL.com/USOpen.