March 14, 2007 19:00
Despite withdrawing from seven events this season, Norm Duke is still making a case to be a candidate in a crowded PBA Player of the Year race.
The 25-time Denny’s PBA Tour titlist, who suffered a broken toe in January, has rebounded in his last three events since returning, continuing with a dominating performance in Thursday’s Round of 64 in the 2007 Pepsi Championship at Woodland Bowl.
Duke averaged 247.43 Thursday and finished with a 3,464 14-game pinfall, finishing more than 100 pins ahead of the next bowler, second-place Mike DeVaney (Temecula, Calif.) who finished with 3,349.
After finishing the first half of the season as the front-runner for PBA Player of the Year by winning two titles, Duke withdrew from the first seven events of the second half after sustaining a broken toe. He rebounded with an 11th-place finish his first event back in the 2007 Bayer Classic, then finished fifth in the 64th U.S. Open two weeks ago.
“If I had been out there bowling all season I could make a lot better case but I’m still in it,” Duke (Clermont, Fla.) said of the Player of the Year race. “There are still two Majors left, but they’re all important. But since there are only three events left, it just makes it that much more important regardless of whether I’m in the Player of the Year race or not.”
Duke led nearly from start to finish Thursday, leading after the first seven games with a 258.00 average. He had four games of 278 or higher in the first seven games, but cooled off in the second block, averaging 236.86 over the final seven games. It was still enough to open up a big lead heading into round robin match play, where all pins from qualifying carry over.
“There were a lot of high scores out there and it was because you could play a number of different lines,” said Duke. “It’s hard to know which one is best, but I had this intuition that the straighter you’d go the better, even though it didn’t look like it.”
Ryan Shafer (Horseheads, N.Y.) finished third with 3,322, while non-exempt bowler Dino Castillo (Carrollton, Texas) continued his hot streak and finished fourth with 3,305. Castillo, who qualified through Wednesday’s Tour Qualifying Round for a Tour-record ninth time this season, has clinched an exemption for the 2007-08 season.
PBA Hall of Famer Tom Baker (King, N.C.) rounds out the top five with 3,262.
Kelly Kulick, the first-ever woman to earn a full-season exemption on the Denny’s PBA Tour, finished 14th with 3,220.
The top 32 advance to Friday’s round robin match play starting at 11 a.m. EST. The field will then be narrowed to the top five who will advance to Sunday’s live ESPN televised finals at 12:30 p.m. EST. The winner will take home $25,000 and an exemption for the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour season.
300 games (5) – Kelly Kulick, Rick Steelsmith, Eugene McCune, Mike DeVaney, Marv Sargent.
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