HONG KONG - Rising star Rafiq Ismail of Malaysia is having the best year of his career, and his run of success now includes the singles gold medal at the 2018 World Bowling Men's Championships.
The 21-year-old left-hander sealed the victory Saturday at the South China Athletic Association Bowling Centre with a nine-count on the first shot of his final frame and went on to defeat past champion Dan MacLelland of Canada by a final score of 217-204.
The victory was the first for the Malaysian men at the World Championships since winning the trios gold medal in 1979. Their last medal overall was a silver in doubles in 2010.
Ismail first made his way into the spotlight in August, when he became the first Malaysian to win the Masters event at the Asian Games.
"I feel very happy right now," Ismail said. "It was an intense fight in both the semifinal and final, and I'm happy to be the better bowler today. I hope to keep bowling well and get back into the Masters. Right now, I'm outside of the list. But, I'm very happy with today. The Asian Games and World Championships are the two biggest tournaments for me. I think this is the best year of my life."
MacLelland, who finished his semifinal match with eight consecutive strikes, added four more to start the title tilt against Ismail, before a 10 pin ended his run. The 33-year-old right-hander and singles gold medalist at the 2014 World Men's Championships, failed to convert the spare and missed another 10 pin in the 10th frame to ultimately cost him a return trip to the top of the medal stand.
Ismail took a one-pin lead with strikes in frames four through six and was able to outlast MacLelland, who earned the silver medal.
On the way to the championship match, MacLelland defeated top-seed Andrew Anderson of the United States, 256-170. MacLelland didn't throw his first strike until the fifth frame, but he was perfect the rest of the way.
"Neither of us really had any ball reaction in practice, so I thought for sure it was going to be a grind," said Anderson, who averaged more than 245, including a 300 game, through six games of qualifying. "He made a big move right and was able to find a way to strike, so my hat's off to him for getting it done. Yes, I'm a little disappointed, but we're going to get there. We have a couple semifinals left and some good momentum from the end of today's team event. This is just a small bump in the road."
Ismail's road to the final wasn't quite as smooth as MacLelland's, but a clutch final frame helped him sneak past Team USA's Kyle Troup, 171-170.
The two exchanged splits and open frames throughout most of their semifinal, and despite not striking until the ninth frame, Troup could've added two more strikes in the 10th frame to shut out Ismail.
Troup left the 6-10 combination on his first offering, but his clean frame forced Ismail, who was working on a strike, to strike once more. After delivering the strike, Ismail left, and converted, a 10 pin to advance.
"I knew the lanes were going to be tough, and based on the format and time we had to practice, my game plan was a little different than what it has been the rest of the week," Troup said. "I just wanted to give myself the best chance, but I never really got anything going. Even though I couldn't build any momentum, we kept going back and forth, and I at least was able to give it a run in the ninth and 10th. It's definitely a little frustrating, but it was a good to experience my first medal round, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the week. The ultimate goal is the team gold."
Troup and Anderson, both first-timers at the World Championships, each received bronze medals for their singles performances this week. The Team USA men did not medal in singles in 2017.
Next up at the SCAA Bowling Centre is the final three games of team qualifying for the bottom half of the field after Saturday's opening three-game set. Competition will resume Sunday afternoon, followed by the championship round for doubles at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. Eastern).
The top half of the field will bowl its final three games of team Monday, followed by the trios semifinals and final at 6 p.m. (5 a.m. Eastern).
The medal round for the team event will take place Tuesday, and the tournament will end with the Masters final Wednesday.
All 265 competitors at the 2018 World Men's Championships will bowl 24 games this week (six games in singles, doubles, trios, team), and medals also will be awarded for all-events and Masters match play.
At the conclusion of the team event, the all-events medalists (gold, silver and bronze) will be determined based on their 24-game pinfall totals - six games of singles, doubles, trios and team).
Through 21 games, Team USA's EJ Tackett tops the all-events standings with a 4,670 total, a 222.38 average. He is followed by Anderson (4,664) and Troup (4,647). Team USA's Tommy Jones is 22nd with 4,377, Jakob Butturff is tied for 102nd place with 4,103 and Chris Barnes is 167th with 3,895.
The top 24 bowlers from the all-events standings will advance to Masters match play. Denmark's Carsten Hansen and Thailand's Napatra Buspaikonkul are tied for the 24th spot with 4,374, a 208.29 average. MacLelland is fourth with 4,597 and Ismail is 27th with 4,362.
All qualifying rounds at the 2018 World Men's Championships are being livestreamed by World Bowling, and all medal rounds will be broadcast to the United States and Canada by FloBowling. A FloBowling subscription will be required to watch the medal rounds.
For more information on the 2018 World Men's Championships, visit 2018wmc.worldbowling.org.
2018 WORLD BOWLING MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIPS
South China Athletic Association Bowling Centre
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)
Rafiq Ismail, Malaysia, def. Dan MacLelland, Canada, 217-204
(Winners advance, losers each earn bronze)
MacLelland def. Andrew Anderson, United States, 256-170
Ismail def. Kyle Troup, United States, 171-170