So, after this Sunday's PBA World Championship finals we'll have made it through the first leg of this newer, longer, PBA Tour season - and I have to say the shows have been pretty impressive from both a production and competition point of view. We've seen some new faces making their first appearances on a PBA telecast, some familiar faces, and at least one player who redeemed himself after his first telecast was arguably one of the most bizarre TV matches I've ever seen.
That player is Tom Daugherty, whom you might remember being on the losing end of the most lopsided match ever televised when he lost the semifinal in the 2011 PBA Tournament of Champions to Mika Koivuniemi 299-100. Tom shook that off and won the Bowlers Journal PBA Scorpion Championship by doubling his 100 game to win over Osku Palermaa 200-182.
We had our first bowler from the Middle East qualify for a PBA telecast, when Fawaz Abdulla of Bahrain made the stepladder finals for the PBA WSOB Chameleon Championship. He also may have put on one of the gutsiest performances I've seen in recent years, having to battle gout in his right foot - and the pain that accompanies it. While he fell short of his ultimate goal, he showed his toughness as a competitor and that his game is good enough that he could one day return to fight another day for his first PBA title. Scott Norton came out on top when a stubborn 10-pin left by Jason Belmonte handed him his second PBA tour title, coincidentally on the same Chameleon pattern he won his first title on.
We also had two players return to the winners circle. Bill O'Neill ran the stepladder to bring home the Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Cheetah Championship by defeating top seeded Mike Wolfe in the title match by a score of 243-192. Brad Angelo returned to the winners circle by defeating arguably the hottest bowler on the planet, Mika Koivuniemi, 233-232 in a tightly contested match that saw Mika make an uncharateristic mistake to cost him the win.
All in all, with the exception of O'Neill's dominance over Wolfe in their match, we have seen some rather exciting and tightly contested title matches in this rendition of the Geico PBA World Series of Bowling. Be sure to tune in to catch the World Championship telecast as I can only imagine there will be more excitement coming from that show.
Top 10 Rankings
Ya know, it has been a while since this writer has taken the time to throw this list together. I'm sure that many of the names will be the same (as the cream will always rise to the top). Having said that, here we go...
10. Dan McClelland
Dan qualified 4th overall for the World Championship and always seems to be lurking around the top portion of the field. Dan is one of the young guns who you will be seeing a lot of in the coming years and will find his way to many titles in the future. His first title is just a matter of time.
9. Chris Barnes
I'm shocked to be putting one of the best in the world this far down the list, but after failing to make any of the five telecasts during the WSOB and qualifying 48th, Chris would probably tell you himself his performance was far from what he has grown accustomed to. Chris did, however, win the finals of the 2012 World Bowling Tour beating his roomie Mika. With the Winter Swing approaching, I'm sure he has taken the time to evaluate things and will figure out what he needs to do to return to the top of this list.
8. Tommy Jones
TJ was the 2nd highest qualifier after the four animal pattern qualifying rounds were contested in this year's WSOB and just missed the PBA World Championship finals by an agonizing 9 pins. It's been too long since this superstar has hoisted a trophy, but if history shows us anything its that when he gets hot he wins in bunches and bunches.
7. Chris Loschetter
Still waiting to take home that elusive first tour title, Chris came out with guns blazing at the WSOB this year. He only made one show in the Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Cheetah Championship and, if it wasn't for those pesky 9 counts he very well could've been the player running through the stepladder to get the win in place of eventual champion Bill O'Neill. He also was the 4th highest qualifier after the animal pattern events, eventually placing 8th in the World Championship. Chris continues to get better and better, and while his string of consectutive tournaments entered without a victory is still going, don't expect that to last for too much longer. One might say you could compare his career to that of Jack Jurek, who has long been a solid player on tour but took quite a while to get that first title.
6. Scott Norton
Let's be realistic, being a left hander on tour these days hasn't been as "beneficial" as it may have been in years past - for many reasons. Norton was the top left handed qualifier during the World Championship qualifying rounds and is on a short list of left handers to have won more than one title over the last few years. He did his part in forcing Belmonte to strike in the tenth to beat him, and the emotion that poured out of him after Belmo's 10-pin stood was a memorable sight to see. By winning again, Norton has cemented himself as a force to be reckoned with out on tour, and I'm sure that we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
5. Mike Fagan
The Argyle Assassin had a solid WSOB, and made the TV finals for the WSOB Viper Championship, losing his match to Mika Koivuniemi. I'm sure when the season comes closer to the end, Mike's name will be back in the discussion for this year's Player of the Year race, because he just always seems to be consistently near the top when the tournament is on the line.
4. Bill O'Neill
One might say last season was a disappointment for The Real Deal, even though he did finish in the top 8 on the PBA points list. He quickly put his name back up towards the top of this list with his win in the Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Cheetah Championship. It sure does seem that if he has the chance to get locked in during a stepladder TV final, he usually finds a way to win.
3. Mika Koivuniemi
Mika has been nothing but dominant in recent months, winning across the globe in the World Bowling Tour and WTBA events. He recently won in Qatar which was his 10th PBA title, but also the 19th different country he has won in. The Big Finn is going to continue to make noise throughout the year as the PBA continues to travel the globe.
2. Jason Belmonte
Scary as it is to realize this, Belmo keeps getting better and better. He was a 10-pin away from winning the Chameleon Championship title, and also finished 3rd in the Scorpion. He's also locked in to the title match for the first major of the season when the World Championship telecast takes place Sunday. He seems determined to keep his name in the hat for this year's POY race, but like Ric Flair once said, "To be the man you have to beat the man." And the man right now is...
1. Sean Rash
The Man. Sean may not have left the WSOB with a title again this year, but continues to show that he is simply the best player in the world at this time. His rivalry with Belmo brings back memories of years past when you would see Roth and Holman on ABC what seemed like every week. Sean doesn't seem to be slowing down any this season, and looks ready to defend his Player of the Year status til the bitter end.