November 17, 2006 19:00
Sunday’s championship round of the 2006 Lake County Indiana Classic features one of the most unlikely finalists in recent history.
42-year-old Steve Rogers will make his TV debut Sunday after he became just the fourth bowler to go from the Denny’s PBA Tour Qualifying Round to the championship round.
Rogers appeared in his 50th career Denny’s PBA Tour event this week, and advanced through the Tour Qualifying Round for just the second time in the three years of the TQR. He then advanced to match play for the just the second time in his career when he finished 22nd in Thursday’s Round of 64.
Rogers got through Rick Steelsmith in the Round of 32, fellow qualifier Dino Castillo in the Round of 16 and Jack Jurek in the Round of 8 to join Liz Johnson, Del Ballard Jr. and Sean Rash as qualifiers who have advanced to the final round.
Though he seemingly came out of nowhere this week, Rogers has had some notable success in the last couple seasons, finishing 21st in last season’s U.S. Open which features the Tour’s most difficult oil pattern.
Rogers will look to become the 76th bowler to win a title in his debut. The last bowler to accomplish the feat, coincidentally, was Sean Rash, who also became the first qualifier to win a Denny’s PBA Tour event when he won the 2006 West Virginia Championship last season.
Waiting for Rogers in Sunday’s semifinals is Mika Koivuniemi, who is always tough on TV. Not only is Koivuniemi’s career TV winning percentage seventh all time, Koivuniemi is 16-3 in his first match in 19 career TV appearances.
Koivuniemi hasn’t been able to take advantage of that success lately, however. He’s making his first TV appearance in 20 events, and is looking for his first title since the end of the 2004-05 season. The “left-handers’ worst nightmare” won’t be facing a lefty of Sunday, but he will be facing Steve “The Dream” Rogers. He’ll look to end Rogers’ dream run Sunday, and make his first TV appearance a nightmare.
Michael Haugen Jr. will be looking to end one of the longest title droughts on Tour Sunday. He hasn’t won a title in 181 career events, which is the third longest streak among exempt bowlers. Brian LeClair has the longest title-less drought, having gone 341 events without a title while Ritchie Wolfe hasn’t won in 310 career events.
Haugen will have to shake some rust off if’s he is going to get over the hump. He’s making his first TV appearance since the 2004 Uniroyal Tire Classic, a span of 45 events. Haugen had an emotional week, first learning his grandmother was ill, then overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the Round of 16 to defeat Mike DeVaney. He capped off the roller coaster week with a revenge win over Pete Weber in the Round of 8.
Weber denied Haugen his first career title with an amazing performance in the title match of the 2001 Greater Louisville Open. Haugen fired a 279 with only a spare in the third frame getting in his way, but Weber came within a frame of his first career televised 300 game, winning the match 289-279. Weber had the first 11 strikes before leaving a 10-pin with his final shot.
Haugen will have to get past a man on a mission in Norm Duke, who tied a Tour record Friday by going 12-0 in match play. Duke joined Randy Pedersen in 2002 and Chris Hayden in 2003 as the only other bowlers to accomplish the feat. A good omen for Duke is that both went on to win the title.
Duke’s 2006-07 season thus far has been disappointing compared to his 2005-06 season when he made a Tour-high seven TV appearances and led the Tour in points and average. After taking last week off due to an injury, Duke came into this week fresh and it showed. He led the Round of 64 Thursday and ran through three opponents Friday to make his first finals appearance this season.
If Duke and Koivuniemi advance to the title match, it will mark just the second time since the Tour switched to the single elimination format in 2001-02 that the top two seeds advanced to the title match. The only other time it happened was last season when No. 2 Tommy Jones defeated No. 1 Mike Scroggins in the Bayer Atlanta Classic title match.
It will be hard for anyone to beat Duke, who hasn’t had a game under 200 the entire week. In fact, Duke’s low game was a 205 in Thursday’s Round of 64.
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