Craig Nidiffer caught two early breaks in his match against top seed Brett Wolfe to beat the 2002 USBC Masters champion and 2010 New Mexico Open runner-up, 276-237, at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
Wolfe hit the pocket 12 times, striking seven, but left two stone-cold 8 pins, a ringing 7 pin, and another ice-cold 8 pin in the first six frames before getting a five-bagger and a nine-count to finish the game.
By then it was too late, as Nidiffer, encouraged by his good fortune (a first-frame Brooklyn and nose-hit carry of the 6-10 to give him an opening four-bagger), fired a solid six straight strikes in frames six through 11 to close out the championship match and claim the $ 10,000 first prize. Wolfe received $ 5,500 as runner-up.
For Nidiffer, the win was seemingly meant to be. In the semifinal, after opening with a perfect five-bagger, he lost his way against Tyler Jensen, leaving two unconverted designer splits and making a scary four-count spare.
"I got lucky. I got really lucky," he told Albuquerque Journal reporter, Glen Rosales. Jensen, sensing victory, left and whiffed a 10 pin in the ninth. Needing to go off the sheet to force Nidiffer to strike, he left another single pin to lose 195-204.
In earlier step-ladder matches, four-time PBA Tour titlist, Mike Fagan, beat Geoffrey Young, 227-218, striking in three of the last four shots. Young, last year's runner-up to champion, Nathan Bohr, won $ 1,750 in fifth place.
Jensen then eliminated Fagan, 246-224, in a match that also could have gone either way. Fagan received $ 2,000 for fourth place, while Jensen earned $2,750 after losing to Nidiffer.
The big mover on the last day was former Team USA member, Bryanna Caldwell, who moved from 36th to sixth, before losing the position round match 209-212 to Fagan. She posted a four-game series of 960 in the morning's semifinal round, then averaged 217 in match play with a 7-5 record.
The tournament was a record-breaker in many ways, attracting 217 bowlers from Australia, Latvia and 18 states, record side tournament entries of more than 430, and record prize-money of more than $ 73,000, including $ 54,465 in the Main Event.
Eric Forkel, who broke his back in 2000, was chosen by Mike Miller and Dana Miller-Mackie as the first recipient of the new "Dee Miller Memorial Courage Award" trophy in honor of the Miller family trail-blazer, who passed away in March.
Match 1: Fagan def. Young 227-218
Match 2: Jensen def. Fagan 246-224
Match 3: Nidiffer def. Jensen 204-195
Final: Nidiffer def. Wolfe 276-237
Placings prior to championship round:
1 Brett Wolfe, Arizona 6,260 10-2 237.7 average
2 Craig Nidiffer, Michigan 6,060 8-4 219.5
3 Tyler Jensen, Texas 5,923 9-3 222.0
4 Geoffrey Young, Texas 5,896 6-6 215.0
5 Mike Fagan, Texas 5,762 7-5 218.9
6 Bryanna Caldwell, Arizona 5,716 7-5 217.0 $ 1,800 (includes high woman bonus)
7 Josh Blanchard, Arizona 5,679 4-8 215.5 $ 1,200
8 Kris Koeltzow, Colorado 5,661 5-7 209.5 $ 1,100
9 J.C. Zuniga, Oklahoma 5,653 4-8 217.5 $ 1,000
10 Vern Peterson, Florida 5,643 4-8 211.5 $ 900
11 Kevin Mitchell, Oklahoma 5,553 4-8 208.2 $ 850
12 Chad Lusche, Colorado 5,373 4-8 195.0 $ 825
* The dates for the 12th New Mexico Open were announced as August 14-16, 2015.