LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Finland’s Osku Palermaa, Europe’s premier two-handed bowler, survived a 173-149 battle with top qualifier Dan MacLelland of Windsor, Ontario, to win his first Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour title in the PBA GEICO Shark Championship at South Point Bowling Center.
The finals of the GEICO Shark Championship, which lived up to its name, aired Sunday on ESPN.
Widely considered the most difficult of the PBA’s five so-called “animal” lane conditioning patterns, the Shark took a bite out of the entire field of power players. In the end, it was Palermaa’s ball speed and ability to loft the ball down the lane, using his two-handed technique, that made the difference as four splits killed MacLelland’s bid for his first PBA Tour title.
With his victory, Palermaa accomplished his primary objective in traveling to the United States to bowl in the multi-event PBA World Series of Bowling: an opportunity to also bowl in the $1 million PBA Tournament of Champions Jan. 15-22 at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas. The PBA Tournament of Champions is open only to bowlers who have won a PBA title.
“That was the main part of my being here,” Palmeraa said. “Being from Finland, I can’t bowl in the PBA regional tournaments, so (winning a title during the World Series of Bowling) was my only way in. It’s the biggest tournament I’ve ever had a chance to bowl in. I can’t wait.
“Will I be a favorite?” he grinned. “Oh, yah. When I am bowling my A game, I’m going to be on top.”
On his way to his title, Palermaa also won a long-awaited showdown against his Pacific region counterpart, Australia’s Jason Belmonte. The Shark Championship was the first time the world's best two-handed bowlers had ever met each other on television.
“It was our first match on TV so I wanted to be the one to get the first win,” Palermaa said. “There will be plenty more to go, and we’ll see what happens. But I got the first one.”
Belmonte started the Shark finals with a 248-223 victory over Mike Fagan of Patchogue, N.Y., and he then eliminated reigning PBA World Champion Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., 208-192, to set up his showdown with Palermaa in the semifinal match.
As the high-revolution power players burned away the oil in the front part of the lanes, both two-handers struggled. In the end, it was a 4-6 split in the 10th frame that doomed Belmonte. A spare/strike in the 10th frame gave Palermaa a 182-176 victory and a chance to bowl MacLelland for the title.
“I’m happy with the way I bowled,” Palermaa said. “I might have wrapped my hand around the ball a little too much a couple of times, but I made my spares. It was the Shark. It was expected the lanes were going to get ugly. There’s only so much oil and it got burned up.”
Palermaa appeared to accept his milestone victory in a stoic Scandinavian manner, but he admitted later he was more excited than he appeared to be.
“I’m an emotional guy, but it’s inside,” he said. “Why waste the energy showing the emotions? It’s the Finnish way. That’s the way I learned to do it. Maybe I should be more emotional, but that’s the way I’m used to doing it.”
The sixth and final World Series of Bowling telecast will be a special U.S.A. vs. The World team competition which will air on ESPN on Sunday, Jan. 9, at 1 p.m. Eastern. United States team members will be Michael Haugen Jr. of Carefree, Ariz.; Ronnie Russell of Camby, Ind.; Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas; Sean Rash, Wichita, Kan.; Chris Barnes, Double Oak, Texas, and Bill O’Neill, Southampton, Pa. International players will be Finland’s Palermaa, Kimmo Lehtonnen and Mika Koivuniemi; Canada’s MacLelland; Australia’s Belmonte and Venezuela’s Amleto Monacelli.
Free post-finals interviews and other World Series of Bowling special features are available on PBA’s Xtra Frame video streaming service. Visit pba.com or xtraframe.tv to access Xtra Frame. Full year and monthly subscriptions to Xtra Frame are available.
GEICO SHARK CHAMPIONSHIP
South Point Bowling Center, Las Vegas, Nev., Dec. 26
1, Osku Palermaa, Finland, two games (355 pins), $15,000.
2, Dan MacLelland, Canada, one game (149), $8,000.
3, Jason Belmonte, Australia, three games (632), $6,000.
4, Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., one game (192), $5,000.
5, Mike Fagan, Patchoque, N.Y., one game (223), $4,000.
Match One: Belmonte def. Fagan, 248-223.
Match Two: Belmonte def. Smallwood, 208-192.
Semifinal Match: Palermaa def. Belmonte, 182-176.
Championship: Palermaa def. MacLelland, 173-149.