July 8, 2007 19:00
A year ago at the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Masters, Tom Baker was putting the finishing touches on what was arguably the most dominant season in PBA Senior Tour history. Not only did he become the first bowler in history to win two Majors in a PBA Senior Tour season as well as the third to win four titles in a season, the manner in which Baker won the USBC Masters championship was epic.
After finishing seventh after 15 games of qualifying, Baker won his first match in double elimination match play before falling to Dale Eagle in the winner’s bracket, sending him into the loser’s bracket and assuring himself a difficult road to the finals. What Baker did over the next two days was just the icing on the cake of an historic 2006 season.
The PBA Hall of Famer won 11 consecutive three-game matches, averaging 238.58 in 33 games, including eight matches where he shot over 700. Baker’s biggest win was a 783-654 win over Keith Sharp in which he averaged an astounding 261 over the three games.
Baker completed the comeback with a 645-575 win over undefeated Bob Kelly in the title match, all but wrapping up his second consecutive PBA Senior Player of the Year award in a season which saw him earn $66,000 in nine events and lead the PBA Senior Point Rankings by $100,000 points.
This season has been much different for Baker. With stronger competition, including PBA Hall of Famers David Ozio and Mark Roth bowling full time and one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory, Baker has not been able to dominate the Tour like he has the last two seasons. Last week saw Baker finally break through for his first win of the year, as he captured the 2007 PBA Senior Northern California Classic at Harvest Park Bowl in Brentwood, Calif., for his sixth career PBA Senior Tour title in just under three seasons.
This week, Baker will sit on the sidelines for qualifying as he receives a bye into match play as the defending champion. The bye hasn’t always favored the defending champion, however, as 2005 champ Vince Mazzanti Jr. won just one match last season and 2004 champ Gary Dickinson lost his first two matches in 2005. In fact, the only bowler to repeat as USBC Senior Masters champion was Dave Davis in 1995 and ’96.
Besides Baker, two other bowlers will be looking to make history. Pete Couture and Gary Dickinson are looking to become the first three-time winners of the Senior USBC Masters as Couture won in 1998 and 2002, while Dickinson added to his 1997 win in 2004.
Baker and Dickinson, along with Dale Eagle and Dave Soutar are also looking to break a five-way tie for first and become the first bowlers in history to win four PBA Senior Tour Majors in a career. Gene Stus, not competing this week, also owns three PBA Senior Tour Major championships.
Soutar, the only bowler to win the USBC Masters (1973) and Senior USBC Masters (2000), is coming off one of his best finishes in the last two seasons as he finished 12th in last week’s PBA Senior Northern California Classic. Soutar has battled injuries over the last couple seasons and has not won a title since 2003 but he appears to be rounding into Hall of Fame form again.
Competition begins today with nearly 300 bowlers bowling five games of qualifying, and continues Tuesday and Wednesday with players bowling five games a day. The 63 bowlers with the highest 15-game pinfall after Wednesday will join Baker in three-game, double-elimination match play beginning Wednesday evening.
The last undefeated bowler from the winner’s bracket will face the winner of the loser’s bracket on Friday for a spot in next season’s PBA Tournament of Champions, unless the winner is a non-member.
Tournament of Champions Spot Goes to Dick Weber Invitational
Speaking of the Tournament of Champions, PBA Senior U.S. Open winner Rick Minier did not earn a berth in the 2008 PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas because he is not a PBA member.
Rather than vacate the spot, the PBA has announced they will award the winner of the 2007 PBA Senior Dick Weber Invitational a spot in the 2008 PBA Tournament of Champions.
The PBA Senior Dick Weber Invitational is a new tournament to the PBA Senior Tour schedule and will complete the 2007 season. The event is open to all past PBA Senior Tour champions as well as all PBA Hall of Famers aged 50 and older, and the top 75 bowlers in the PBA Senior Point Rankings.
Additionally, all senior bowlers who have competed in at least eight of the 2007 PBA Senior Tour events through the PBA Senior Decatur Open will be invited to compete. The event, held in honor of the late Dick Weber – the only bowler in PBA history to win a title in six different decades – features a round robin match-play format with a five-bowler stepladder final, Tuesday, August 21. The winner will receive $9,000 and a coveted spot in the Tournament of Champions, one of four Majors on the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour schedule.
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