The climactic telecast of the PBA World Championship took place Sunday and it was easily the best show of the year. The TV folks did a fantastic job of squeezing in every possible storyline imaginable (Ryan Shafer's past heartbreak, Sean Rash and Jason Belmonte's rivalry, Osku Palermaa and Belmonte's eerie similarities, Rash's World Series of Bowling dominance, etc.) so that, whichever way the bowling went, it was sure to mean something to us all.
Considering how well Rash and Belmonte had bowled in the World Series, a lot of folks (including me) were expecting nothing but a final featuring the two newly minted rivals, but Shafer and Osku had other plans. As you saw in the Pre-game warmup for the show, the bowlers were striking at will on the Rash-chosen Scorpion oil pattern and many people (including Storm/Roto-Grip ball rep Chris Schlemmer) expected a high-scoring affair, but the lane oil had other plans for that as well.
Fans who might have been hoping for an all two-hander final had their hopes dashed in the opening match. Rash and Shafer zoomed out to games of 245 and 236, leaving the slow-starting two-handers behind to duel for the third and final spot in the next round. Coming down the stretch, Belmonte - who started hot and then suffered through some mid-game transition and a couple of poor shots - seemed to get it together heading into the final two frames. But he slammed a very familiar-looking stone 7 (a carbon copy of the one he left to lose the Plastic Ball Championship in 2009) in the 9th and finished with a 203. Osku, needing a double to advance or strike nine-spare to tie was forced to the second option when his second shot in the 10th left a pesky 10-pin. Luckily, Osku throws it 30 mph on his spare attempts because the only thing that looked like it could've knocked that 10-pin over on his spare shot was the wind as the ball blew by the 10-pin. After paramedics came in to defribrillate Osku's heart (just kidding, but mine definitely would have stopped) Belmonte and the burly Finn went to a one-ball sudden death roll-off.
Belmonte elected to lead off and left the bucket on a shot that sailed wide on him. Needing just 7 or better, Osku packed a strike and joined the others in the next match. According to Belmonte's Facebook page, the loss was "bitterly disappointing" and was really a big missed opportunity, considering the conventional wisdom that he gets tougher to beat in the eliminator format the longer he stays on the show. But the rest of the players heeded Randy and Chris Barnes' advice and got him out of there early.
The second match of the day was a virtual dead heat all the way into the 9th, as all three players fought transition that was seeing their balls hook too early in the front and not enough on the back part of the lane. Rash looked like he might have it figured out until a wicked 7-10 split jumped up in his 9th frame and doomed him to a 193 score. After the miss, Osku caught a double for 217 and Shafer, looking to join Palermaa in the final, finally got the break he's been waiting for in 50 long TV appearances, rolling the 2-pin in consecutive shots in the 9th and 10th for 222 to secure his spot in the title match.
It was a cruel ending for Rash, after his complete domination of the qualifying rounds and really a pretty good game here in the finals. His consolation is that he has five more appearances over the rest of the World Series telecasts and clearly, the respect of his fellow competitors for what he was able to accomplish at South Point.
As is often the case on these eliminator-format telecasts (and is also true in any show where more than one two-hander makes the finals), the longer it goes, the more the conditions favor the two-handed player. The reasons are detailed in this blog, and, using that logic, one would assume that Osku would have the advantage over Shafer heading into the final, due to the former's ability to generate the revs necessary to get left of the front-lane burn and around the back-end oil. But Shafer definitely has a few tricks up his sleeve, especially one that his fellow players refer to as "Voodoo roll" that allows the crafty veteran to stay right longer than most other players, thanks to his unique release.
But as the game progressed, it was clear that both players would need to make adjustments in order to combat the rapidly-changing environment, and heading into the 8th frame, both players were pacing sub-200 scores. Shafer made a good move (a ball change coupled with a move to the left) to give himself a chance to strike, but couldn't figure out the carry part of the equation, leaving flat-10s in the 8th and 9th to give Palermaa the opening he needed. After sniffing around all game, Osku found something late and put together a double in the 9th and 10th to shut out Shafer with a score of 203.
And just like that, Osku Palermaa became the second player from Finland - and the first two-hander - to win a PBA major title. The win was a huge boost for Palermaa, and caps off a great stretch in both his professional and private life that has seen him welcome a daughter into the world and now cash his biggest PBA check. And for those of you who think Palermaa lacks a little something in the personality department, check out this post-show interview and his cheeky, confident smile and sense of humor. It may be a little on the dry side, but it is definitely there.
Well, the year's first major is now in the books, but that doesn't mean there is not a huge amount of PBA-related things going on in the near future. The animal pattern finals now begin on ESPN, starting with the Bayer Viper Open next Sunday at 3pm ET (note the time change). Also airing Saturday and Sunday on Xtra Frame is the first-ever Xtra Frame Tour event - where a National title will be contested and awarded entirely on your online bowling channel. Don't miss a moment of the action and subscribe to Xtra Frame now (for just $7.99 a month or get a day pass for just $3.99) to see the champion crowned at Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley, California!
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