Masters to kick off Tuesday with minor format changes

by Bob Johnson 0

Some of the greatest players to ever throw a bowling ball have won the USBC Masters over the years, but it has been nearly five decades since a player has successfully defended his title.

This year, that daunting task belongs to Mike Fagan, who won his first major title last year when he defeated Chris Barnes, 246-213, to take the Masters title at Sunset Station's Strike Zone Bowling Center in Henderson, Nev.

More than 410 of the world's top amateur and professional bowlers will look to dethrone Fagan when the 63rd USBC Masters takes place next week at Brunswick Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J.

“The Masters is tough to win because of the format, and being a dominant player in that environment is extremely tough,” Fagan said. “But if the lanes are as challenging as they have been in the past for the Masters, then I like my chances. I’m on my game right now and feeling good.”

Should Fagan find the trophy in his arms again this year, he would become the first player to successfully defend his title since Billy Welu hoisted the trophy in 1965. Dick Hoover also won consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957.

One advantage for Fagan is that he automatically makes the 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket as the defending champion. He will bowl in the qualifying round to try to earn the highest seeding position possible.

“I’m definitely not upset that I get to be in the bracket already,” Fagan said. “The fact that there are so many entries pouring in means it could be tough just to make the bracket. Making that cut is one less thing off my mind, and it allows me to focus more on strategy.”

The Masters will have some minor format changes this year, allowing all players to bowl 15 qualifying games (instead of 10 games as in previous years, when only the cashers bowled an additional five). After 15 games, the top 63 players will join Fagan in the three-game, double-elimination match-play bracket.

The top five players at the conclusion of the bracket competition will compete in the live two-hour championship round on ESPN on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. Eastern.

To accommodate the change from four to five players making the television show, the final match in the Masters elimination bracket will consist of four players battling for the final three spots on the show. Those four will bowl one three-game match on the same pair of lanes on the afternoon of Feb. 23, with the high scorer earning the No. 3 seed, the second-high scorer No. 4 and the third-high scorer No. 5. The lowest scoring player will be eliminated.

The top two seeds on the TV finals will be awarded to the final two players in the winners bracket, who then will bowl a three-game match to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

The Masters, which features a first-place prize of $50,000 and a total prize fund of at least $300,000, is a major event on the PBA Tour and is part of the WTBA World Bowling Tour for the third consecutive season.

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SCHEDULE (All times Eastern)

Monday, Feb. 18

• 10:30-11:45 a.m. — Practice session (players with last names A-K)

• 1:15-2:30 p.m. — Practice session  (players with last names L-Z)

Tuesday, Feb. 19

• 8 a.m. — Round 1, 5 qualifying games (Squad A)

• 12 noon — Round 1, 5 qualifying games (Squad B)

• 5 p.m. — Round 1, 5 qualifying games (Squad C)

Wednesday, Feb. 20

• 8 a.m. — Round 2, 5 qualifying games (Squad B)

• 12 noon — Round 2, 5 qualifying games (Squad C)

• 5 p.m. — Round 2, 5 qualifying games (Squad A)

Thursday, Feb. 21

• 8 a.m. — Round 3, 5 qualifying games (Squad C)

• 12 noon — Round 3, 5 qualifying games (Squad A)

• 5 p.m. — Round 3, 5 qualifying games (Squad B)

• Top 63 players and defending champion Mike Fagan advance to three-game, double-elimination match-play bracket

Friday, Feb. 22

• 9 a.m. — Double-elimination match play, three games total pinfall (five rounds)

Saturday, Feb. 23

• 9 a.m. — Double-elimination match play, three games total pinfall (two rounds)

• 1:30 p.m. — Winners bracket final match (two surviving undefeated players, three games to determine No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for ESPN stepladder finals)

• 2:45 p.m. — Three-game match, final four losers bracket survivors (top three players advance to ESPN stepladder finals as No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seeds based on pinfall totals)

Sunday, Feb. 24

• 3 p.m. — Five players, ESPN stepladder finals (live)

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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