February 19, 2008 19:00
While all-time Denny’s PBA Tour titles leader Walter Ray Williams Jr. took the lead back in the 2007-08 PBA Player of the Year race last week, Chris Barnes looks ready to go toe-to-toe with Williams over the final five events.
Barnes averaged 223.11 over his nine games Wednesday to take the lead heading into the final day of qualifying in the 2008 Denny’s World Championship at Woodland Bowl, the third of four Majors on the Tour.
Two weeks ago, Barnes ended Williams’ 13-week run atop the PBA Player of the Year rankings, winning his first title of the season in his eighth championship round appearance. Last week, Williams took the lead right back with a second-place finish in the Pepsi Championship in Omaha, Neb.
Barnes, who has yet to win the coveted award in his 10-year career, just missed out on his record-tying fifth consecutive championship round last week when he finished seventh.
“Missing the show was disappointing last week,” Barnes (Double Oak, Texas) said. “Walter Ray not winning kept me in the middle of the race though so that’s definitely motivation this week, plus a win gives me the Triple Crown. But I’m not thinking about that when I’m bowling.”
Barnes was referring to becoming just the fifth bowler in history to win each of the PBA’s Triple Crown events – the U.S. Open, Tournament of Champions and World Championship. He won the U.S. Open in 2005 and the Tournament of Champions in 2006.
On Wednesday, Barnes was inconsistent the first five games, sandwiching a 197 and 166 around three games in the 200s. He then turned things on over the final four games, averaging 237 the rest of the way.
“It’s been up and down for me all week. I’ve been struggling my first couple games each round,” Barnes said. “Yesterday I think I was 2-under (an average of 200 per game) the first two games and then shot 250-over the rest of the way. Today I was 55-over the first five and then shot 200 over the final four. Fortunately when I strike, I’m striking a lot.”
Despite a roller coaster season in which he’s bowled as well as anyone on Tour but has come up empty in seven of his eight championship rounds, Barnes’ confidence hasn’t wavered at all.
“Winning does change the focus a little bit, but during the week it’s still about trying to beat everybody out here,” Barnes said. “The focus will probably change on Sundays. I’ll just let it be about bowling instead of all the other drama.”
Barnes, who finished second to Doug Kent in last year’s Denny’s World Championship, will look to stay in the top eight during the final nine games of qualifying Thursday morning to earn one of the eight byes through the first two rounds of match play.
Danny Wiseman, who finished third in last year’s Denny’s World Championship after falling to Kent in the semifinals, had a big day Wednesday to move up to second. Wiseman averaged 229.22 over his nine games including a 289 in the third game of the day.
Finishing third Wednesday was Barnes’ Tour roommate, Mika Koivuniemi. Koivuniemi, who resides in Hartland, Mich., but is originally from Finland, is the only foreign-born player to win the U.S. Open and the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Masters and will now look to become the first foreign-born player to win the PBA World Championship.
Speaking of foreign players, this year’s event marks the first time in PBA World Championship history the field has been open to amateurs and the change in format has brought in bowlers from five different continents. Finishing fourth Wednesday was Australian Andrew Frawley (Sydney, Australia), who fired a 300 game for the second consecutive day, while Malaysian Zulmazran Zulkifli finished the day fifth.
The field was cut to the top 57 bowlers Wednesday evening with those 57 returning for an additional nine games Thursday, after which the field will be cut to the top 40 for match play. Earning the final spot in tomorrow’s round was Mike Edwards (Tulsa, Okla.), who edged out Liz Johnson (Cheektowaga, N.Y.) by just four pins. Defending champion Kent just made the cut as well, finishing 52nd.
The final four bowlers will advance to the live ESPN-televised finals on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 12:30 p.m. EST. The winner will take home $50,000 and two-season exemption 2009-10 season.
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