INDIANAPOLIS - EJ Tackett of Bluffton, Indiana, may not have been formally introduced to the final oil pattern for the 2022 U.S. Open until just before Friday's Cashers' Round, but it seemed to be love at first sight for the 29-year-old right-hander.
Tackett entered the Cashers' Round at Woodland Bowl six pins ahead of the talented field, but he averaged more than 246 over eight games to extend his lead to 271 pins heading into the first round of round-robin match play.
His relationship with the 40-foot lane condition was a little more love-hate as he compiled a 5-3 record Friday night, but he's still the front-runner through 40 games by 213 pins. He has not been below second place all week.
Tackett finished the event's fourth day with a 9,115 total, which includes 30 bonus pins for each win in match play.
He is followed in the standings by Jake Peters of Henderson, Nevada (8,902), Tom Daugherty of Riverview, Florida (8,874), Anthony Simonsen of Las Vegas (8,818) and AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois (8,808).
"I was able to see the lane really well this morning, but when we bowled tonight, I felt like everything was backward, and I ended up with no hook to the right and no hold on almost every pair," Tackett said. "I don't know if that's because of the number of bowlers or the percentage of urethane balls going down the lane, but we're going to talk about it and try to figure it out. We might make some surface changes or bring in some balls I haven't used so much and take it from there."
Peters posted the highest block (1,904) and turned in the best record in the first round of matches, a 7-1 mark that allowed him to move up four spots.
The biggest mover of the evening was Australia's Sam Cooley, who earned the final spot in match play, despite six games under 200 in the Cashers' Round, but found his stride in the head-to-head format. He opened with games of 246 and 258, won six matches and catapulted into 13th place.
Tackett and his fellow finalists will have 16 more games Saturday to get acquainted with the week's fourth oil pattern, which will be used for the duration of the 2022 U.S. Open, including the TV show.
Competition at Woodland Bowl will resume Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern with the first of two eight-game rounds of match play.
The second block will get underway at 6 p.m. EST, after which, the players' 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will determine the five bowlers for the televised stepladder.
All rounds of qualifying and match play this week are being broadcast live at BowlTV.com, and the tournament will conclude live on FS1 on Sunday as part of the 2022 Professional Bowlers Association Tour television schedule, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Tackett said that despite the limited time to get familiar with the final oil pattern prior to competition starting, he was able to stay ahead of the curve by watching the bowlers he was paired with in the Cashers' Round - Simonsen and Ohio's Chad Roberts.
"A lot of my success this morning had to do with who I was bowling with," Tackett said. "I've bowled a lot of stuff with and against Chad over the years, and just watching his ball was very helpful for me. He bowled first every game, so I got to see him throw a shot on each pair before I bowled. His ball roll is so stable, that if it didn't hook, or hooked too much, it gave me a really good idea about what the pair was doing. I feel like I've been in tune with making the right moves lately, and that helped make it even better."
Since the return of the U.S. Open in 2015 after a one-year hiatus, the top seed for the championship round has led by more than 270 pins, and by as many as 617 pins, after 56 games on five occasions.
Only once in those five opportunities, and twice overall, has the No. 1 seed won the event.
Ryan Ciminelli of Lancaster, South Carolina, was the only left-hander among the top 24 in 2015 when he led by 461 pins and went on the claim the coveted green jacket, while 2021 winner, Chris Via of Blacklick, Ohio, grabbed the top spot by just 11 pins with a Game-56 victory and went on to hoist the trophy.
A decade into his professional career and already a two-time major champion on the PBA Tour, Tackett is far from ready to start planning what he's going to wear on Sunday's TV show.
With 16 games to go, and nearly 500 bonus pins up for grabs, he knows the focus must be on each game and not letting his thoughts drift too far ahead. If all continues to go well, there will be a time to think about his third major and 15th title overall, but 40 games into a 56-game event is not it.
"At this point, it's about focusing on what's in front of you and the things you can control," Tackett said. "You can't start worrying about what you're going to do on the TV show because as soon as that thought enters your mind, it's all negative from there. From here, I have to bowl a little better. I didn't bowl as well tonight physically as I did earlier, and the lanes felt backward, so it was a double-whammy for me. I didn't bowl poorly, I just didn't bowl as well as I thought I should have. So, I'll get some rest and come back focused on being better."
All 108 entrants this week bowled 24 games over three days and three oil patterns, before the field was cut to the top 36 for the eight-game Cashers' Round on Pattern 4. After 32 games, total pinfall determined the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play.
The field at Woodland Bowl was made up of the sport's top performers in recent seasons. It included the leaders on the PBA Tour points list, Team USA and Junior Team members, top performers at USBC events and PBA majors, and those who advanced from an on-site pre-tournament qualifier last weekend.
The 2022 U.S. Open is a collaborative effort between USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America. The total prize fund for the event will be $282,000.
The last time the event awarded a six-figure prize to the champion was 2009. This year's winner will take home $100,000.
For more information about the U.S. Open, visit BOWL.com/USOpen.
2022 U.S. Open
At Woodland Bowl
(40 games - 30 bonus pins for a win, 15 bonus pins for a tie)
1, EJ Tackett, Bluffton, Ind., 5-3-0, 9,115. 2, Jake Peters, Henderson, Nev., 7-1-0, 8,902. 3, Tom Daugherty, Riverview, Fla., 6-2-0, 8,874. 4, Anthony Simonsen, Las Vegas, 5-3-0, 8,818. 5, AJ Johnson, Oswego, Ill., 6-2-0, 8,808. 6, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 4-4-0, 8,713.
7, Patrick Dombrowski, Parma, Ohio, 5-3-0, 8,687. 8, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 3-5-0, 8,661. 9, Francois Lavoie, Wichita, Kan., 5-3-0, 8,621. 10, Wes Malott, Fort Wayne, Ind., 4-4-0, 8,585. 11, Andrew Anderson, Holly, Mich., 4-4-0, 8,555. 12, Brandon Novak, Chillicothe, Ohio, 3-5-0, 8,529.
13, Sam Cooley, Australia, 6-2-0, 8,509. 14, Matthew Kuba, Tinley Park, Ill., 3-5-0, 8,507. 15, Wesley Low Jr., Palmdale, Calif., 4-4-0, 8,451. 16, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 5-3-0, 8,444. 17, Kristopher Prather, Romeoville, Ill., 4-4-0, 8,416. 18, Kevin McCune, Munster, Ind., 1-7-0, 8,400.
19, Matt Ogle, Louisville, Ky., 4-4-0, 8,388. 20, Brad Miller, Lee's Summit, Mo., 2-6-0, 8,352. 21, Kyle Sherman, O'Fallon, Mo., 3-5-0, 8,299. 22, Bryan Hahlen, Greenwood, S.C., 2-6-0, 8,296. 23, Zach Wilkins, Canada, 3-5-0, 8,273. 24, Chad Roberts (a), Reynoldsburg, Ohio, 2-6-0, 8,170.
1, EJ Tackett, Bluffton, Ind., 7,208. 2, Tom Daugherty, Riverview, Fla., 6,937. 3, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 6,877. 4, Anthony Simonsen, Las Vegas, 6,874. 5, AJ Johnson, Oswego, Ill., 6,805. 6, Jake Peters, Henderson, Nev., 6,788.
7, Patrick Dombrowski, Parma, Ohio, 6,757. 8, Andrew Anderson, Holly, Mich., 6,755. 9, Francois Lavoie, Wichita, Kan., 6,730. 10, Wes Malott, Fort Wayne, Ind., 6,721. 11, Matthew Kuba, Tinley Park, Ill., 6,717. 12, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 6,685.
13, Brandon Novak, Chillicothe, Ohio, 6,675. 14, Kristopher Prather, Romeoville, Ill., 6,669. 15, Wesley Low Jr., Palmdale, Calif., 6,661. 16, Bryan Hahlen, Greenwood, S.C., 6,654. 17, Zach Wilkins, Canada, 6,624. 18, Matt Ogle, Louisville, Ky., 6,620.
19, Chad Roberts (a), Reynoldsburg, Ohio, 6,612. 20, Kevin McCune, Munster, Ind., 6,611. 21, Brad Miller, Lee's Summit, Mo., 6,608. 22, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 6,588. 23, Kyle Sherman, O'Fallon, Mo., 6,586. 24, Sam Cooley, Australia, 6,580.
DID NOT ADVANCE:
25, Bill O'Neill, Langhorne, Pa., 6,567, $1,400. 26, Kyle Troup, Taylorsville, N.C., 6,552, $1,400. 27, Kim Bolleby, Sweden, 6,539, $1,400. 28(tie), Frank Snodgrass (a), Sterling Heights, Mich., and Benjamin Martinez, Mexico, 6,534, $1,400. 30, Marshall Kent, Yakima, Wash., 6,524, $1,400.
31, Ronnie Russell, Marion, Ind., 6,521, $1,400. 32, Spencer Robarge (a), Springfield, Mo., 6,514, $1,400. 33, Ryan Ciminelli, Lancaster, S.C., 6,502, $1,400. 34, Toby Sambueno, Las Vegas, 6,473, $1,400. 35, Nathan Bohr, Round Rock, Texas, 6,466, $1,400. 36, Mitch Hupé, Lockport, Ill., 6,397, $1,400.