As U.S. Open week kicks off Monday (Feb. 21) there are certainly a lot of things to watch for as the week unfolds.
PBA PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE
It's amazing what winning $250K will do for your perceived stature these days. Heading into the TofC in January, all of the "best pound for pound in the world" talk was about Bill O'Neill's quest to usurp Chris Barnes' long-held grasp on that spot. Their tight PBA World Championship title duel seemed to establish the two as the front-runners for PoY heading into the second half.
Then Barnes missed the TV show in the ultra-super-sized PBA Tournament of Champions by a slim 18 pins (he finished 5th, just one spot off the show) and O'Neill just missed as well, finishing a very respectable 9th. Enter Mika Koivuniemi.
Qualifying 3rd for the live ABC-TV finals, Major Mika dodged a gargantuan bullet in the opening match when Andres Gomez flagged a single pin early and then left a shaker 7 on a decent hit to allow the big Finn to survive to bowl Tom Daugherty. A 299 and a 268 later and Koivuniemi had a really heavy wallet, a really loose swing for the coming events and a nice lead in the Player of the Year race.
After solid weeks in Dublin (he missed the show by just 1 pin, finishing 5th) and at the USBC Masters (he finished 3rd), Mika has jumped out to a big lead in the PoY race (Mike DeVaney said last week that anyone who didn't vote for Mika now was, "an idiot.") With the award being voted on by the players this year, only a win or two by either Barnes or O'Neill (with one of those coming in the U.S. Open where O'Neill happens to be the defending champ) would likely give either of them an outside chance to win the award over Mika.
XTRA FRAME COVERAGE
Another wall-to-wall week of coverage will take place at the U.S. Open, with more than 70 hours of live action scheduled to begin Tuesday at 8am ET.
Last year's Open provided perhaps the most dramatic position round of the season (in a year that was chock full of them) when Jason Couch leapfrogged three players (Jason Belmonte, Norm Duke and Walter Ray Williams Jr.) to make the show. Walter Ray's 6-count when he needed just 7 to make the show may have been one of the most shocking moments since the same WRW left a pocket 8-10 to lose a title a few years back.
The other item of note regarding the Xtra Frame coverage is that subscribers who sign up to watch the U.S. Open (at a cost of just $7.99) will also receive coverage of the remainder of the events on the 2010-2011 schedule, which include the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship and the inaugural Dick Weber PBA Playoffs. This year's coverage has been a huge success, as Xtra Frame subscriptions reached an all-time high during the Bayer USBC Masters.
THE TOUGHEST TEST IN BOWLING
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the U.S. Open is the toughest test in bowling. I once bowled the event myself (click here
to read a blog I wrote about that experience). It is not for the faint of heart or for those whose games are not clicking on all possible cylinders.
For the players, winning the U.S. Open is the ultimate achievement in our sport. This year's $80,000 top prize and $400,000 prize fund are boosts that will appropriately reward the best players for their hard work and perseverance. And, as I mentioned before, there is certainly a lot at stake.
Now, to get you pumped up for this year's event, check out the conclusion of last year's tournament posted below. It was the moment when Bill O'Neill finally earned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, his "Real Deal" nickname.