On Wednesday we posted numbers 6-10 of our top stories from this past 2011-12 PBA Tour season. As promised, here are the top five...
#5 - Fagan Wins USBC Masters
Everyone who knew anything about bowling knew that Mike Fagan possessed as much talent as any player on Tour, but with only two career titles in nine seasons, the time to fulfill that potential was now. Dominating the double-elimination match-play alongside Chris Barnes, Fagan narrowly lost a mega-scoring winner's bracket final to miss out on the top seed, but on Sunday, he was not to be denied. Sporting a look of determination, Fagan lofted the ball on a straight line up the gutter to dispatch Bryon Smith 228-180, setting up a rematch with Barnes, who was looking to win the Masters for the first time to become just the third player in PBA history to complete the Grand Slam (Tournament of Champions, USBC Masters, U.S. Open and PBA World Championship). After starting with an open frame and three straight spares, Fagan locked in and never missed again, rolling seven straight strikes for a 246-213 victory - and his first career major title.
#4 - Duke's Domination
After averaging just under 240 to reach the Regional Finals at the Dick Weber PBA Playoffs, Norm Duke put on a striking clinic for the fans watching on Xtra Frame that they will likely never forget. Starting with that match against Michael Haugen Jr., Duke shot 299-223-270=792 to cruise into the Conference Championship against Bryon Smith. There, Duke posted a 256-279-217=751 against Bryon Smith to easily advance to the Semifinals against Parker Bohn III and Martin Larsen - and then he really began to strike. Rolling 279-254-256=789, Duke defeated his closest competitor (Bohn) by nearly 150 pins, setting up a final between the two PBA Hall-of-Famers. Nursing a sore calf muscle, Duke saved his best for last, unleashing a mammoth 289-268-279=836 set to capture the title over Bohn's also-impressive 766 series. Over the four matches Duke averaged an amazing 264, while his opponents could barely muster 219. The win also vaulted Duke back ahead of Pete Weber with his 37th career PBA Tour win.
#3 - Barnes Shoots 300
There's not much left for Chris Barnes to accomplish in the sport of bowling, but prior to the 2011-12 season, he spelled out exactly what those things were: #1 - win the USBC Masters (he finished 2nd), #2 - win PBA Player of the Year again (he finished top 10, but Sean Rash took home that honor), #3 - roll a 300 game on TV (check!). At the GEICO Shark Open Barnes caught fire in the second elimination round match, using the precision and consistency that has propelled him to what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career, to fire off the ultimate string of strikes. The climactic hit produced a memorable celebration, as Barnes ran straight off the approach and high-fived his sons sitting in the front row of the stands. Although he would ultimately lose in the final, Barnes was able to check off one of those three remaining items on his career bucket list.
#2 - Sean Rash Ends Drought with T of C Win
No professional bowler has suffered through a winless drought as scrutinized in the post-Facebook/social networking era as Sean Rash, who, in spite of bowling well as a perennial top-10 player, had not won a title since 2007 - a span that included 16 TV appearances. It didn't help that he'd qualified for TV seven times in 2011-12 without a win, and that his high-profile run-in with Jason Belmonte at the 2011 GEICO PBA Team Shootout polarized fans and brought out even more of the cat-calls. With all of that, plus the prestigious PBA Player of the Year on the line, Sean Rash came through when the pressure was at its greatest, winning his fifth career PBA title - and second major - defeating Ryan Ciminelli 239-205. The win vaulted Rash to Player of the Year, which he won in a vote a few weeks later, and silenced the critics - for now, at least.
#1 - PDW Strikes to Claim 5th U.S. Open Win
In a career of iconic moments, what is likely to end up the most iconic was Pete Weber's memorable strike to claim his fifth career U.S. Open title. Bowling against Mike Fagan, who was looking for his second consecutive major title, Weber needed at least one strike in the 10th frame to lock up the win. His first attempt left a blistering 10-pin, which he converted to give himself one more chance to strike to claim the title by a pin. Riding on the shot was not only the U.S. Open, but a chance to surpass his father Dick and Don Carter (who each won four U.S. Opens) with his fifth Open win. It was also a chance to silence some hecklers in the crowd, who'd been antagonizing Weber throughout the telecast. With complete silence, Weber rocked back and forth a few times, let out a deep breath, and then threw one of the prettiest bowling shots ever thrown. With Gary Thorne providing the perfect call ("Strike to claim it...a strike to claim it...aaaaand HE GOT IT!), Weber unleashed a torrent of words expressing the emotions he was feeling at the time. Perhaps the most memorable of those phrases was "Who do you think you are? I AM!" which became an instant catch-phrase for folks looking for something to say to armchair critics.
Well, there are your top 10 stories from this memorable PBA Tour season. What will next season hold? If you're like me, November's PBA World Series of Bowling can't come soon enough!