LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., who captured the hearts of thousands of unemployed American workers a year ago, re-lived his fairytale journey Friday by advancing to the finals of the $1 million Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes.
Just over a year ago, Smallwood was one of thousands of Michigan auto workers who were laid off by General Motors. He decided to try his luck in professional bowling, earned an exemption to bowl the full season on the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour, and converted that opportunity into a victory in the 2009 PBA World Championship.
Smallwood’s first PBA Tour title earned him a $50,000 prize and a guarantee of two more years as a full-time professional bowler, but the 32-year-old right-hander’s remarkable performance in Friday’s match play rounds gave him an opportunity to dwarf last year’s accomplishment.
Smallwood is one win away from a PBA-record $250,000 first prize in Saturday’s live stepladder finals on ABC at 2:30 p.m. Eastern (11:30 a.m. Pacific).
Also advancing to Saturday’s finals are Tom Daugherty of Wesley Chapel, Fla.; Mika Koivuniemi of Hartland, Mich., and Andres Gomez, a Colombian citizen who lives in Weston, Fla. Daugherty is a four-time PBA Regional title winner. Koivuniemi, a native of Finland, owns eight PBA Tour titles including two major championships. Gomez is an exempt player on the 2010-11 Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour.
Smallwood finished the 58-game qualifying portion of the tournament with a 19-5 match play record and 13,606 total pins, including match play bonus pins, to top Daugherty’s 13,545 total by 61 pins. Koivuniemi finished with 13,424 pins and Gomez with a 13,376 total to claim the fourth position by 18 pins over Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, who won last Sunday’s PBA World Championship.
In addition to the $250,000 first prize, Saturday’s other prizes are $100,000 for second place, $50,000 for third and $40,000 for fourth.
After entering match play Thursday night in 16th place, 435 pins behind qualifying leader Dan MacLelland, Smallwood lost his first two matches, won the next five and lost his final first-round match to move up to 13th place. Friday afternoon, he swept all eight opponents to advance to sixth place, seven pins out of the stepladder field.
“The breaks started going my way today,” Smallwood said. “It seemed like when my opponent stepped up in the 10th needing a strike, he missed. Or I’d get the strike I needed.”
Smallwood’s run of good fortune continued into the final round. He won his ninth straight match when Daugherty failed to double in the 10th frame, and No. 10 when Parker Bohn III opened in his 10th frame. He made it 11 in a row by throwing a 298 game at Norm Duke, taking the tournament lead for the first time.
Smallwood won his 12th straight match thanks in part to Bill O’Neill’s three consecutive splits, and he threw strikes on nine of his first 10 shots to cruise to victory No. 13 in a row over Mike Edwards. Australian two-handed star Jason Belmonte finally ended Smallwood’s streak, 249-224, but he came right back, securing his position in Saturday’s finals by defeating Finland’s Osku Palermaa, 264-214. Smallwood finished the night with a 258-236 loss to Daugherty that didn’t impact his standing.
While Smallwood hasn’t won a title since his PBA World Championship, “I’m not disappointed with the way things have been going,” he said. “You just try to make the show every week and give yourself a chance.”
Nor has Smallwood thought much about the magnitude of winning the Tournament of Champions. “I’ve never thrown a ball in the first frame of a tournament worrying about whether first prize is $10,000 or $250,000,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference. The thing I’ve learned over the past year is that great bowlers know they are going to throw a great shot when they need one. A good bowler has doubts. I’m still a good bowler, not a great one.”
Saturday’s PBA Tournament of Champions finals will return to ABC Television for the first time in 14 years. The PBA Tour has been televised live on ESPN since 1980.
46TH PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Red Rock Lanes, Las Vegas, Nev., Friday, Jan. 21
FINAL MATCH PLAY STANDINGS (after 58 games, including won-lost records and match play bonus pins; top four advance to stepladder finals live on ABC Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern/11:30 a.m. Pacific)
1, Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 19-5, 13,606.
2, Tom Daugherty, Wesley Chapel, Fla., 16-8, 13,545.
3, Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, Mich., 13-11, 13,424.
4, Andres Gomez, Colombia, 15-9, 13,376.
5, Chris Barnes, Double Oak, Texas, 14-10, 13,358, $35,000.
6, Dan MacLelland, Saginaw, Mich., 11-13, 13,347, $30,000.
7, Osku Palermaa, Finland, 11-13, 13,314, $26,000.
8, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 14-10, 13,212, $24,000.
9, Bill O'Neill, Southampton, Pa., 11-13, 13,175, $23,000.
10, Mike Fagan, Patchogue, N.Y., 10-14, 13,144, $22,000.
11, Mike Edwards, Tulsa, Okla., 12-12, 13,140, $21,000.
12, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 10-14, 13,092, $20,100.
13, Parker Bohn III, Jackson, N.J., 11-12-1, 13,053, $19,000.
14, Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., 12-12, 12,969, $18,000.
15, Michael Machuga, Erie, Pa., 14-10, 12,949, $17,000.
16, Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 10-14, 12,879, $16,000.
17, Doug Kent, Newark, N.Y., 15-9, 12,855, $15,100.
18, Jeff Carter, Springfield, Ill., 11-12-1, 12,854, $14,000.
19, Mike Scroggins, Amarillo, Texas, 7-17, 12,748, $13,000.
20, Robert Smith, Hong Kong, 12-12, 12,686, $12,000.
21, Jesse Buss, Wichita, Kan., 10-14, 12,614, $11,000.
22, Walter Ray Williams Jr., Ocala, Fla., 10-14, 12,543, $10,000.
23, Tyler Jensen, Ft. Worth, Texas, 8-16, 12,535, $9,000.
24, Anthony LaCaze, Melrose Park, Ill., 11-13, 12,483, $8,000.
300 Game: Doug Kent