Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, rolled the 22nd nationally-televised 300 game in Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) history during the GEICO Shark Open finals, but he bowled it one game too soon.
After his perfect effort in the semifinal round, Barnes lost in the GEICO Shark Open title to Australia’s Jason Belmonte, 244-213, in a match that extended the international dominance in the PBA World Series of Bowling to five consecutive titles. The finals, conducted at South Point Casino and Hotel, aired Sunday on ESPN.
The title was Belmonte’s second in the World Series and the third of his PBA career.
The GEICO Shark Open, the fourth and final PBA “animal pattern” championships contested during the third annual PBA World Series of Bowling, almost got the best of Belmonte, who had struggled in the opening game of three previous elimination-format finals.
In the opening game of the “low man out” Shark finals, Barnes, who led the Shark field in qualifying, posted a 234. Sean Rash of Suburban Chicago (Montgomery, IL), making his fifth straight final, was next with a 205. Belmonte, with a double in the ninth and 10th frames, finished with a 190 to advance when Finland's Mika Koivuniemi now living in Hartland, MI, failed to double on his first shot in the 10th, leaving a 2-10 split which he failed to convert for a 172 game.
In game two, Barnes was untouchable on his way to winning a $10,000 perfect game bonus. Belmonte continued to search for strikes, but Rash left splits in the first, third, fifth and seventh frames. Despite converting three of the four, he couldn’t throw two strikes in a row and Belmonte survived their battle for the second berth in the title match, 215-182.
In the title match, Belmonte almost turned the tables on Barnes, finding his line to the pocket and running off a string of seven strikes to start the game. Barnes started with three strikes, but he then lost his carry. Barnes’ 7-10 split on a soft pocket hit in the seventh frame gave the two-handed Australian power player a 51-pin lead. Despite an open frame by Belmonte in his seventh, Barnes was too far behind to make up the difference.
“I would have liked to have thrown the 300 one game later, but I’ll still take it,” Barnes said. “I can’t blame the last game on a bad start. I got out of the gate okay. But Belmo made a ball change, and moved farther inside. My ball started (hooking) a little quicker.
“The killer shot for me was in the seventh frame. I made the hand position change I thought I needed to make, but all of a sudden my ball was hitting flat like everyone else who has bowled against Belmo, and I left that 7-10. I was pretty much dead at that point. He forced the action, which is what great bowlers do. That’s what happens in one-game matches.”
“When someone has just shot 300, you know the next game isn’t going to be low,” Belmonte said. “It probably won’t be 300, but you know it’s going to be good. As long as guys don’t shoot 300 at me in the title match and there’s still a way for me to get the win, they can bowl as many 300s as they want.”
Belmonte, who ended a three-year title drought by winning the Chameleon Open earlier in the World Series, said confidence was the key to getting back into the winner’s circle.
“My physical game is as sharp as it’s ever been,” he said. “If I do everything correct, the ball does the work for me. In the past, I was worried about what the ball was going to do rather than just making the shot and letting the ball do the work.
“When I’m bowling in normal competition, I’m always confident and I’m always ready to bowl strikes. But when you put me into the TV arena, my psyche changes and I can feel myself bowling differently,” he continued. “Today I felt like me. I felt great. I knew exactly where the ball was going. That’s how I was able to get out of that nervous frame of mind.”
Belmonte was at a loss to explain why the United States’ top stars had not yet won a World Series title, although he wasn’t totally surprised.
“In my opinion, the U.S. has by far the best bowlers in the world, but the world is catching up and I think the World Series of Bowling is proving it,” he said. “Stu Williams (England), Dom Barrett (England), Osku (Palermaa, Finland), Martin Larsen (Sweden), Andres Gomez (Colombia), Ildemaro Ruiz (Venezuela)…there are so many international players who have now gone past the amateur level.
“It has taken us time for us to learn the tricks of the trade, and to understand the lifestyle (on the PBA Tour) and how to deal with it. But we’re at the point where we can come out here and be successful.
“In the past, (the international players) haven’t really come to the U.S. a lot and the Americans haven’t come to us, but now the PBA Tour and the World Bowling Tour are causing that to happen. It’s a cool thing.”
PBA World Series of Bowling competition continues on ESPN on Sunday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. ET with the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship. Teams in the finals will include Belmonte bowling with PBA Hall of Famer and newly-crowned U.S. Open champion Pete Weber of St. Anne, MO; Bill O’Neill of Southampton, PA, with 2012 USBC Masters winner Mike Fagan of Dallas; international teammates Gomez and Larsen; PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, FL, with Wes Malott of Pflugerville, Texas, and top qualifiers Ronnie Russell of Marion, IN, with Rash.
In the interim, PBA players will head to Detroit for the third Xtra Frame Tour event, the Detroit Open presented by Track, March 9-11 at Thunderbowl Lanes in suburban Allen Park. First prize will be $10,000 and a berth in the Round of 36 for the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions. All qualifying and match play rounds of the Detroit Open Saturday and Sunday will be webcast live, exclusively on the PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame. To subscribe, visit pba.com and click on the Xtra Frame logo.
PBA GEICO SHARK OPEN
South Point Exhibition Hall, Las Vegas
Round One (lowest score eliminated): Chris Barnes, Double Oak, Texas, 234; Sean Rash, Montgomery, IL, 205; Jason Belmonte, Australia, 190; Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, MI, 172 ($4,000).
Round Two (lowest score eliminated): Barnes 300, Belmonte 215, Rash 182 ($4,500).
Championship: Belmonte ($15,000) def. Barnes ($7,500), 243-213.