RENO, Nev. - Gary Faulkner Jr. of Memphis, Tennessee, and Jason Sterner of Rochester, New York, may be seeing the lanes at the National Bowling Stadium from different sides, but the two are enjoying the same view from the top of the standings at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Masters.
The left-handed Faulkner finished Wednesday's second round with a 246 game and surged into the overall lead with a 10-game total of 2,191, a 219.1 average. He has been consistent at the familiar venue, posting sets of 1,103 and 1,088, but he feels there's still room for improvement.
On Tuesday, he got out to a great start but struggled in the middle of the block. On Wednesday, he was focused on the middle games and let the first two get away from him.
Since the match-play portion of the USBC Masters features three-game matches, much of Thursday's third round will focus on fine-tuning the things that have gone well this week, especially while breaking down the lanes and early in the block.
"I've just been trying to keep the ball in play and leave makeable spares, and I've been able to take advantage of the breaks when they've come," said Faulkner, 30, who won the 2015 Professional Bowlers Association World Championship at the National Bowling Stadium for his lone PBA Tour title. "I still think I can bowl better, though. I haven't put together a complete block yet."
Sterner, a 37-year-old right-hander, is close behind with 2,152. He is followed in the standings by Junior Team USA member Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri (2,132), two-time U.S. Open champion Francois Lavoie of Wichita, Kansas (2,131), and Nick Kruml of Downers Grove, Illinois (2,129).
All rounds of qualifying and match play from the 2021 Masters are being broadcast on BowlTV.com and simulcast to FloBowling, and the event will conclude live on Fox Sports' FS1 on April 4 at 2 p.m. Eastern as part of the PBA Tour television schedule. The winner will take home $30,000.
After three five-game rounds over three days, the top 63 players, based on their 15-game pinfall totals, will join defending champion Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, in the double-elimination match-play bracket.
Butturff finished the day tied for 80th place with a 1,949 total, but even if the left-hander finishes qualifying outside the top 64, he is guaranteed the final spot in the bracket as the defending champion.
For Faulkner, this week's success is a nice confidence boost, as he continues to get comfortable with a new brand of equipment.
He changed companies in January, but an injury to his ring finger left him without much of a chance to get comfortable with his new arsenal before a busy couple of months on the PBA Tour.
Sterner also can attribute some of his performance this week to the addition of new things to his arsenal.
For most of his bowling career, he has relied on his instincts and physical tools to find success on the lanes. The strategy has paid off countless times, including in the form of three PBA Tour titles, but he always knew there were more tricks, tools and dimensions he could add to his game.
Ultimately, it was a matter of being OK with asking for help and then setting aside the time to get it, a process that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, Sterner practiced to make sure he was sharp physically, and a thorough fitness routine helped with his endurance, but he was missing a clear understanding of why he was doing things, why he should be doing other things or why things were happening out on the lanes.
A new focus on things like strategy, equipment and oil, and how all those things work together, has helped him see the game in a new way. It's all part of the BowlU teachings of industry veteran Rick Benoit and PBA Tour champion Brad Angelo.
The BowlU methodology breaks down the sport into five unique elements and helps bowlers work them into their own games and goals.
With Angelo's Brad Angelo Lanes not too far from Rochester, Sterner was able to make the trip a couple times a week during the downtime of the pandemic, and the sessions began paying off immediately.
"I've always relied on the physical stuff, even trying to overpower the lanes at times, but I knew I needed some additional guidance," said Sterner, whose last win came at the 2019 FloBowling PBA Illinois Open. "It would've happened eventually, but some things happened that allowed me to begin working with them sooner. I've learned things that are helping me make better decisions and make them faster, and that's important in getting to each new level of success."
Competition at the NBS will resume Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern with the final day of qualifying for the 216 competitors, who have been split across three squads, bowling five games each day.
The Masters last was held in Reno in 2011, and this week's event is the first of two major championships being held in the Biggest Little City in the World.
The U.S. Open will take center stage beginning the afternoon of April 4 with a pre-tournament qualifier. The long-format tournament will conclude live on FS1 on April 11 at 2 p.m. EDT. Australia's Jason Belmonte is the defending champion at the U.S. Open.
The 2021 U.S. Open will be a collaborative effort between USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America, and the limited field will include the sport's best bowlers, most of whom earned their spots in the event based on their recent on-lane performances. The list includes leaders on the PBA Tour points list and top performers at USBC events and PBA majors.
For more information on the USBC Masters or U.S. Open, visit BOWL.com.