March 27, 2008 19:00
Norm Duke has had one of the most interesting seasons of his 26-year career. He’s now put himself in position to make it one of the most memorable.
Duke, who just a month ago was in danger of losing his Denny’s PBA Tour exemption, is now looking poised to capture his second Major of the season, going 8-0 Friday evening to move into the lead in the 65th Denny’s U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone Carolier.
The 27-time titlist has battled injuries throughout the season and had fallen as low as 51st in the PBA World Point Rankings heading into the Denny’s World Championship just four events ago. Despite battling the flu that week, Duke made an incredible run to the finals where he beat Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Ryan Shafer to capture his third career Major and secure his place on Tour for two seasons.
“This has been a lot like the last two years where I’ve been extremely opportunistic when I’m on the floor but I just can’t make my way to the approach enough,” Duke (Clermont, Fla.) said of the injuries that have kept him off the lanes.
“But I’m really enjoying bowling now because of the fact that I’m healthy again. It hurt so badly before that it took the fun out of it. Now, I feel like I’m in the heat of battle and capable again.”
Duke was more than capable on Friday. After quietly hovering in the top 20 all week, he swept through his matches Friday night to jump into the lead heading into the final 16 games of round robin on Saturday. After finishing fifth in last season’s U.S. Open to miss the finals by one spot, Duke will get another shot at the coveted U.S. Open crown, the only one of the Triple Crown events he is missing.
“The U.S. Open is everything to me,” Duke said. “At the beginning of every season I look at the four Majors but I look at this one first. It just bugs me. It’s difficult to get this tournament and how important it is to me out of my mind when I’m bowling. I can’t think about winning, I just have to get it done.”
Duke’s first two matches Friday came against two of the top players on the Denny’s PBA Tour as he dispatched of Wes Malott and Tommy Jones by scores of 215-196 and 243-214, respectively. He then faced just two other exempt bowlers over his final six wins, capping the perfect night with a 213-200 win over amateur Mark Clark.
With 16 games left, Duke is nowhere near feeling like he’s in the driver’s seat.
“I cannot even count the times I’ve missed the show by one spot in this event. It’s at least three. And I’ve finished second once by one pin. I still throw that shot a thousand times and I still miss,” Duke said. “You can't win this tournament on Friday though. I’d love it if they’d just start the show tomorrow but I can still finish 24th. The task at hand is to come in here and play my very best. That’s the only thing that’s acceptable. And I know I have it in me.”
Mika Koivuniemi (Hartland, Mich.), who is looking to get back his “Major Mika” moniker after winning the Masters and U.S. Open for the first two of his eight titles, also made a big run Friday going 7-1 to move up to second. Shannon Buchan (Waterloo, Iowa) went 5-3 and sits third while Eugene McCune (Munster, Ind.) went 4-3-1 and is fourth. Qualifying leader Brad Angelo (Lockport, N.Y.) went 5-3 to drop to fifth.
All pinfall from the four rounds of qualifying carries over into match play where bowlers earn 30 bonus pins for each win and 15 for each tie.
The top four after Saturday’s match play will advance to Sunday’s championship round live on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET. The winner will take home $100,000 and a three-year Denny’s PBA Tour exemption.
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