LAS VEGAS – Experimental scoring system or not, veteran professional champions Mika Koivuniemi of Hartland, Mich., and Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., proved great bowling prevails as winners of the fourth annual World Bowling Tour Men’s and Women’s Finals, presented by the Professional Bowlers Association, at the new South Point Bowling Plaza.
The World Bowling Tour Finals, presented by the Professional Bowlers Association, was the concluding event of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VI. It featured three men and three women who earned their berths in the finals through a two-year global competition points race conducted jointly by World Bowling, the international governing body for tenpin bowling, and the PBA. The finals aired Sunday on ESPN.
Koivuniemi, a Finnish native and 14-time PBA Tour champion, won his second WBT Men’s title in a tightly-contested 1-up, 12-frame battle against Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., while Kulick won her second consecutive WBT Women’s Finals title with a 3 & 2 decision over Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, N.Y.
The scores, reminiscent of Ryder Cup golf competition, were based on a “frame play” scoring system where the primary goal was to win each frame, and then win more frames than your opponent can possibly win in a 12-frame contest. For example, a strike by Player A would win the frame of an opponent who got nine pins on his/her first ball, and if Player A wins seven frames with only five remaining, he/she would win the match, 7 & 5.
The “frame play” system is being tested by World Bowling as an alternative for international match play competition, to make scoring in bowling more easily understood by the non-bowling public and, hopefully, more attractive to the International Olympic Committee.
In the Koivuniemi-Rash match, both players struck in six of their first seven shots to stand “all-square” with five frames to go. Koivuniemi struck in the eighth and ninth while Rash got eight and nine pins, respectively, to take a 2-up lead. Rash got back to within one point when he won the 10th frame, 9-7. Both struck in frame 11. Koivuniemi, protecting his fragile lead, matched Rash’s strike in the 12th frame for the 1-up victory.
In the men’s semifinal match, Rash eliminated Australia’s Jason Belmonte, 3 & 2, taking a 3-point lead after six frames and throwing another string of four strikes to shut out the reigning PBA Player of the Year with two frames to go.
Kulick’s string of three strikes early in the women’s final match gave her a 1-up lead after six frames, and she gained a 2-up edge with a 9-8 win in frame eight followed by a strike-7 win to go 3-up after nine frames. Both players went nine/spare in frame 10 to give Kulick a 3 & 2 victory.
The women’s semifinal match might have been the most dramatic contest under the new system. Andersson struck on six of her first seven shots to take a 3-up lead over Johnson, but Johnson answered with her own string of five strikes to pull the contest to all-square after 12 frames, and then won the match, 1-up in the 13th frame, with a strike while Andersson left a 4 pin.
The six players involved in the WBT Finals had varying viewpoints about the scoring system.
Koivuniemi said, “It was pretty easy to strike on this (lane conditioning) pattern, but you probably have a little more pressure on every shot in this format than normal because every shot means a little more. It’s still bowling and I like to throw more spares because I usually find a way to grind when conditions are tough. I keep myself close by throwing spares.
“I don’t mind (the format), but I’d like to see it on a tougher pattern to see how it goes. Right now, nobody throws spares, but this (format) is made for more non-bowlers. If they like and it helps save bowling, I have nothing against it. But I personally don’t think scoring is the problem (with the sport).”
Rash said, “I liked and enjoyed how every frame had pressure which kept me focused. I don't have a conclusion because this was a test run and I’m sure there will be a few tweaks to help make it even better going forward. The change I hope that is made is to add the spare shooting somehow.
“Overall, I look forward to the changes and look forward to being a part of a future show. If this will help bring more sponsors, more fans, more TV and publicity to our sport, I am all for it.”
Belmonte said, “My strategy, no matter what the scoring format is, is to strike. So from that standpoint, I don’t think it had any impact. I was very open-minded to this scoring system. I didn’t have any preconceived thoughts. I wanted to give it every possible chance to influence my thoughts without bias.
“My personal feeling is that I don’t believe the scoring system has anything to do with the decline in popularity of bowling. It fell a little flat for me, because I didn’t think the fans were into a regular-scored match. What I loved about it was that the World Bowling isn’t afraid to try new things. I admire and respect the leaders of World Bowling and I will always support the organization, even if my personal opinions are different than theirs.”
Kulick said, “You still have to show up, you still have to make shots. Every shot is precious. Usually, under conventional scoring, if you get a three-bagger and get a little ahead, your swing gets loosened up a bit, but frame-for-frame, every shot is crucial.
“As a player, my adrenalin was higher than if we were keeping score normally. I don’t know what my score would have been. Maybe I would have been up by 30 pins or so going into the 10th frame, but frame-for-frame, it comes down to execution. Maybe a little luck, but mostly execution.”
Johnson said, “It was definitely exciting. I honestly wasn’t all for it because I didn’t know much about it, but in the first match, it worked in my favor because I had a 4-9 and a 5-7 (splits that only counted as one lost point). Once I got to the end of the first match, I liked it a little better.
“It kept things exciting for the fans. I don’t know if I’m a fan of it for every week, personally, but it definitely adds a little excitement to the mix. If that’s what it takes to (get put into the Olympic Games program), if that’s what it takes to get more fans for bowling, then, yeah, I’m for it.”
Andersson said, “It was different. I haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about it. But my mindset was still the same. It was one shot at a time. I tried to repeat my shots. As long as I throw it good, there’s nothing more I can do.
“It was hard for me to keep up with the scoring system. I really didn’t know what was going on while I was bowling. It’s new, but it’s missing out on one important thing, and that’s making spare shots. For me, if you can’t make your spare shots, you’re not going to win. That’s bowling in my eyes.”
The PBA Tour returns to action Jan. 19-25 with qualifying and match play rounds in the PBA Players Championship and Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship at AMF Bowlero in Wauwatosa, Wis. Preliminary rounds will be covered live by PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame.
The ESPN-televised championship rounds in both events will be contested Feb. 14-15 as part of the 50th anniversary Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions celebration at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis. The Players Championship will air on ESPN on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 1 p.m. ET and the Doubles Championship will air on March 1 at 1 p.m. ET.
WORLD BOWLING TOUR FINALS
presented by the Professional Bowling Association
South Point Bowling Center, Las Vegas
Championship: Mika Koivuniemi, Finland-Hartland, Mich. ($20,000) def. Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill. ($10,000), 1-up in 12 frames.
Semifinal Match: Rash def. Jason Belmonte, Australia ($5,000), 3 & 2.
Championship: Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J. ($20,000) def. Liz Johnson, Cheektowaga, N.Y. ($10,000), 3 & 2.
Semifinal Match: Johnson def. Sandra Andersson, Sweden ($5,000), 1-up in 13 frames.
UNDERSTANDING THE EXPERIMENTAL WORLD BOWLING “FRAME PLAY” SCORING SYSTEM
The experimental system impacts how the sport is scored as well as the format for singles match play competition. It was used during the World Bowling Tour Men’s and Women’s Finals presented by the PBA during the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VI on a trial basis to help gather player, fan and news media input. Here’s how the system works:
1) A match will involve 12 frames.
2) In each frame, each player will throw one shot.
3) If Player A gets a higher pin count than Player B, he/she will win the frame.
4) If both players strike, the frame will be tied.
5) If neither player strikes, but each has the same pin count, each player will try to convert the spare. If both successfully convert their spares, the frame will be a tie. If one player has a higher pin count than the other after two shots, that player will win the frame.
6) Scoring for the match will reflect who has won the most frames (example, 1 up, 2 up, etc. All-square means the match is tied).
7) At the point one player has won more frames than frames remain (example: 3 up after 10 frames), he/she will be declared the winner.
If a match is “all-square” after 12 frames, the tie will be broken using the single-frame format described above until the tie is broken.