February 21, 2008 19:00
The 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour season has been so bad for Norm Duke, even the supremely confident star was starting to doubt himself.
But always one with a flair for the dramatic, Duke swept Chris Loschetter, four-games-to-none, Friday night to advance to the championship round of the 2008 Denny’s World Championship at Woodland Bowl, the third of four Majors on the Denny’s PBA Tour.
The 26-time titlist and future PBA Hall of Famer has battled injuries all season and came into the week 51st in the PBA World Point Rankings with just five weeks remaining. The top 39 at season’s end earn exemptions for 2008-09 and Duke needed a big performance this week as Majors are weighted more heavily in the point rankings. He came in sitting nearly 16,000 points below the cut line.
“I doubted myself every day the last two or three weeks because of these ongoing injuries,” Duke (Clermont, Fla.) said. “No matter what, something just seems to keep coming up and this week it was no different. You talk about doubt… it’s not that I don’t think I’m good enough, it’s just a tough battle to go through. It’s been tough on me to think my career could be in jeopardy because of injuries.”
Battling a sickness this week on top of a nagging neck injury, Duke finished the first round of qualifying 58th, needing to move into the top 57 on day two to advance. He did in a big way, averaging 222.33 on Wednesday to move up to 16th.
Seeded 14th heading into match play Thursday night, Duke defeated defending champion Doug Kent, 4-1, then knocked off Australian Jason Belmonte, 4-2, Friday morning to set up a battle with the No. 3 seed Mika Koivuniemi. Duke defeated the Finland native, 4-2, in an odd Round of Super 16 in which all eight of the top seeds from qualifying who earned byes into the round lost.
Duke then swept Loschetter to advance to his first championship round of the season, keeping up his streak of 19 consecutive seasons with at least one TV appearance. He’ll look for his third career Major title Sunday and his first since the 2000 PBA National Championship.
“At this point in my career, the only tournaments out there for me that really mean a lot are the Majors,” the 43-year-old Duke said. “All the others events just pale in comparison. I start thinking about the Majors at the beginning of the season.”
Most importantly for Duke, the minimum fourth-place finish moves him up to 37th in the PBA World Point Rankings heading into Sunday.
“When I made the top 16, I factored in that I would probably get at least 10th-place points so I said, ‘at least I got that done,’” Duke said. “It was a relief and it showed in my performance tonight that (the Round of 8) wasn’t a lot of pressure in comparison.”
Duke will have to face all-time Denny’s PBA Tour titles leader Walter Ray Williams Jr., who will be looking for his record-tying eighth career Major title Sunday. Williams would also open up a huge lead in the 2007-08 PBA Player of the Year race with a victory. Duke and Williams will face off in the second semifinal Sunday.
“If you’re going to win a Major, you know you’re going to have to beat Pete (Weber) or Walter Ray or Chris Barnes or Tommy Jones to do it. Those are the usual suspects,” Duke said. “At the end of the week those are the guys on TV. I’m just glad I didn’t have to bowl any of them this week up until now.”
Williams advanced to his seventh championship round of the season with a 4-0 sweep of Brad Angelo. The PBA Hall of Famer, who came into the week with a four-point lead in the Player of the Year race, will look for his third victory of the season.
The first semifinal features Ryan Shafer taking on a surprise finalist in Australian amateur Andrew Frawley. Frawley came back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Wes Malott, 4-3. This season marks the first time amateurs have been allowed to compete in the PBA World Championship and the Aussie has taken full advantage. Should he win the event, he would earn a berth in the 2008-09 PBA Tournament of Champions but would not take home the two-season exemption awarded to the winner.
Shafer swept non-exempt bowler Tom Daugherty, 4-0, and will make his second appearance in a Major final this season. Shafer finished third in the H&R Block Tournament of Champions a month ago and will be looking for his first Major title despite appearing in his 10th career Major championship round.
Sunday’s live ESPN-televised finals get underway at 12:30 p.m. EST. The winner will take home $50,000 and two-season exemption through the 2009-10 season.
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