If anyone doubted Tom Baker during a rough first half of the 2007 PBA Senior Tour season, he’s proved over the last two weeks that this is still his Tour.
Baker set a new PBA Senior Tour record with his fourth career Major title and became just the second bowler in history to win back-to-back United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Senior Masters titles, defeating Shannon Starnes, 658-625, to win the 2007 USBC Senior Masters at the National Bowling Stadium.
This year’s road to the title was much easier for Baker as it took him just 24 games to win compared to 54 last season, when he made history by winning 11 consecutive games out of the loser’s bracket. This year’s title match, however, was much more dramatic.
The PBA Hall of Famer beat Starnes in the final winner’s bracket match Friday morning to advance to the title match where he would await either Starnes or Bob Chamberlain, who knocked off Sam Zurich earlier in the day. Starnes defeated Chamberlain to set up a rematch with Baker, whom he would have to defeat twice for the title.
In the first three-game match based on total pins, Starnes held a 26-pin lead heading into the final game. Baker stayed close until he left a 4-10 split in the eighth frame and opened, and Starnes responded with strikes in the eighth and ninth to snap Baker’s record 17-match winning streak over the last two years in the Senior Masters, and send the finals to a deciding three-game match.
The final was neck-and-neck throughout the three games, with Baker holding a slight advantage after game one, 210-203. Starnes then pulled within one pin heading into the final game despite getting outscored by Baker, 222-221, in game two. Starnes missed an opportunity to take the lead in game two, however, opening in the 10th frame.
In a tense deciding game, Baker struggled on the right lane, unable strike in the first, third and fifth frames on the lane. Meanwhile, Starnes was breathing down Baker’s neck, striking in four of five frames to pull within one pin of Baker. It was at that point Baker made a key ball change and picked up a crucial strike on the right lane in the seventh.
“I just lost the feel with that ball. My hand was sweating and I was making bad shots,” Baker (King, N.C.) said. “The more I thought about it, the worse it got so I switched balls and that made the difference.”
Though he failed again to strike on the right lane in the ninth frame, Baker was still in the match after Starnes’ nine-spare in the eighth frame. The two-time defending PBA Senior Player of the Year then stepped up in the 10th frame, needing at least the first strike to force Starnes to strike in the 10th. Showing nerves of steel, Baker struck all three times in the 10th, forcing Starnes to strike out to win the match by one pin.
Instead, Starnes, looking for his first career PBA Senior Tour title, left the 2-4-5-8, giving Baker his fourth Major title in just six tries.
“I’m still chocked up by this. I was really fighting myself out there,” Baker, the only senior bowler also exempt on the Denny’s PBA Tour, said. “My hat goes off to Shannon. He bowled great and every time I made a mistake he came back and put the pressure on me.
“It feels great to win two in a row. I bowled a lot more games last season, but this is the toughest match I’ve had here in two years.”
Baker has now won three of the last four Majors after winning both the PBA Senior U.S. Open and the USBC Senior Masters last season. He also finished third in this season’s Senior U.S. Open.
“I think the format in the Majors suits me better. The longer the format, the better I am,” Baker, the first bowler since Dave Davis in 1995 and ‘96 to win back-to-back USBC Senior Masters, said. “I can make the adjustments I need to make and I’m a good spare shooter. I was able to do that today. I left two 3-6-9s in that match and that’s a tough spare. Making those was key.”
With seven titles in less than three full seasons, Baker is now tied for eighth on the all-time PBA Senior Tour titles list with Earl Anthony, John Hriscina and Dave Soutar. He also pulls ahead in the 2007 PBA Senior Player of the Year race, which coming into this week was up for grabs. Baker, who won last week’s PBA Senior Northern California Classic, is looking to become the first bowler to win the award three consecutive seasons.
In addition to the $16,000 Baker wins for his title, he also solidified his spot in the 2008 PBA Tournament of Champions. Baker is still eligible due to his 2004 PBA World Championship win, but was in danger of getting bumped from the roster. Now, he’s assured a spot in the event which will be held next January in Las Vegas.
Starnes (Ft. Worth, Texas) earned $8,000 for second, Chamberlain (The Villages, Fla.) took home $5,500 for third while Zurich (Grant, Fla.) earned $4,500 for fourth.
The PBA Senior Tour takes a two-week break before returning for the final four events of the season. The final swing kicks off with the PBA Senior Council Bluffs Open at Thunderbowl, July 30-Aug. 2.PBA Senior Tour
2007 USBC Senior Masters
National Bowling Stadium
Friday, July 13
(Three-game match, total pins. Winner earns $16,000. Loser earns $8,000.)MATCH TWO
Baker def. Starnes, 658-625Game three
Shannon Starnes, Ft. Worth, Texas, def. Tom Baker, King, N.C., 664-614. Game three
LOSERS BRACKET ROUND 10
(Three-game match. Loser eliminated, finishes 3 and earns $5,500.)
Shannon Starnes, Ft. Worth, Texas, def. Bob Chamberlain, The Villages, Fla., 594-504.LOSERS BRACKET ROUND NINE
(Three-game match. Loser eliminated, finishes 4th and earns $4,500 each.)
Bob Chamberlain, The Villages, Fla., def. Sam Zurich, Grant, Fla., 595-521.WINNERS BRACKET ROUND FIVE
(Three-game match. Winner advances to championship match. Loser falls into loser’s bracket.)
Tom Baker, King, N.C., def. Shannon Starnes, Ft. Worth, Texas, 685-570