March 28, 2008 19:00
Last year, Mika Koivuniemi got off to a strong start in the U.S. Open and faded at the end. He learned from his mistakes and is now one win away from his second U.S. Open crown.
Koivuniemi went 17-7 in match play to earn the top seed for Sunday’s stepladder finals in the 65th Denny’s U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone Carolier, the fourth Major and final event of the Denny’s PBA Tour season.
The eight-time titlist was in 65th after the first day and 63rd after the second day, but a ball change led to a 236.00 average the third day of qualifying, moving him up to eighth. He went 7-1 in each of the first two rounds of match play to take the lead, which he never relinquished.
“I started off really poorly this week but I changed balls and I changed my release and that made the difference,” Koivuniemi (Hartland, Mich.) said. “I moved way left and never moved right. After that I bowled really well.”
Koivuniemi is the only bowler to win Majors for his first two career titles, capturing the 2000 United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Masters and the 2001 U.S. Open. He’s made three U.S. Open championship rounds since then and will look to become the sixth bowler to win the U.S. Open twice.
“Like anyone else, this is the biggest tournament of the year for me,” Koivuniemi said. “If you can choose any event to win, this is it. The format, the number of games, the amount of bowlers. There’s so much traffic on the lanes those first couple of days you just have to find a way to survive somehow. Then it’s a new tournament in match play. I won a lot of close matches and that was the key. Last year I started well and died in the matches so I guess I learned from that.”
As the top seed, Koivuniemi earned an automatic berth in the title match. The first match features 2006-07 PBA Player of the Year Doug Kent (Newark, N.Y.) taking on last year’s Player of the Year runner-up, Norm Duke. After winning two Majors last season, Kent has struggled in 2007-08 and is making his first championship round of the season.
Duke, meanwhile, will look to equal Kent’s accomplishment last year by becoming the seventh bowler to win two Majors in a season. He captured the Denny’s World Championship a month ago for his third career Major. A win Sunday would make Duke just the fifth bowler in history to win the PBA’s Triple Crown, a win in the World Championship, Tournament of Champions and U.S. Open.
The winner of that match will face No. 2 Chris Loschetter, who doubled in the 10th frame of the position round to defeat Kent and go around Duke in the standings. Loschetter, who equaled Koivuniemi’s 17-7 record, will look to become the fifth player in history to win the U.S. Open for his first career Denny’s PBA Tour title.
Sunday’s live ESPN-televised championship round gets underway 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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