COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, NY, advanced from third to take the lead earlier Friday and fired a 300 in his final game to lock up the top berth in Sunday’s finals of the Barbasol Professional Bowlers Association Players Championship at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.
Ciminelli, a 29-year-old left-hander and the PBA Tour’s only three-time title winner in 2015 – including the U.S. Open – has won 16 of his 24 matches and tied another, averaging 240.69 to claim the top rung in the stepladder finals by 70 pins over Canadian Graham Fach, who is making his first television final in only his second PBA Tour appearance. Fach, 24, finished with a 14-10 match play record and 11,978 pins in his bid to become the first Canadian ever to win a PBA Tour title.
Australia’s Sam Cooley, also qualifying for his first TV final in third place, struggled early in the final round, but turned his fate around with a 300 game to finish with 11,832 pins, 70 ahead of Sweden’s two-hander Jesper Svensson. Svensson, who turned 21 on Monday, became the youngest player to win the FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions two weeks ago in Shawnee, Okla.
It might not have been the prettiest round among the finalists, but PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, FL, battled his way into the telecast with three exciting victories in his final three matches, slipping past Anthony Pepe of Elmhurst, N.Y., by 12 pins and DJ Archer of Friendswood, Texas – his position round opponent – by 36 pins.
Duke, who needs to win the Players Championship to join Mike Aulby as only the second player to complete the “Super Slam” of major championships, said, “That’s the hardest telecast I’ve made in recent memory. With three games to go I was 100 pins back and it seemed like I could do nothing but leave 10 pins. I just told myself, hang in there. I just willed myself to bowl three good games.
“This is the fifth major,” the 51-year-old Hall of Famer added. “Don’t think I don’t know it. I just know how hard it is to win out here. I want to win one. I just want to win. I don’t think my story is over yet.”
Ciminelli, as tournament leader, will meet the survivor of three stepladder matches for the title. After finishing second in 2015 PBA Player of the Year balloting to Australia’s Jason Belmonte, Ciminelli said he had a premonition about his final match.
“I had a feeling I was going to bowl 300 because I figured Fach was going to bowl 279 or 280, and I’d need the pins,” Ciminelli said. He doesn’t generally have that kind of confidence.
“Eight months ago, I was looking for a new job in my career training, construction engineering,” Ciminelli said, “but it was like I got a message from God – no, not yet. This is what you’re meant to do."
“As bummed out as I was (about losing in Player of the Year voting last year), and as confident as I look, I fight demons constantly,” he continued. “I keep telling myself I’m not that good. It’s hard for me to keep believing in myself. I’m such a believer in you’re only as good as your last performance, so if I have a bad performance, I tell myself I stink. I just try to make a show. Every tournament is a battle to try to make a show."
“I’m averaging 240 in this tournament and asking myself, am I good enough to keep doing this? No matter what, I continue to question my ability – but I think that’s what makes me keep wanting to prove myself.”
Ciminelli will get a chance to prove himself during the live Barbasol PBA Players Championship ESPN stepladder finals Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Immediately following the Players Championship, ESPN will air the World Bowling Tour Men’s and Women’s Finals presented by the PBA.
BARBASOL PBA PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl, Columbus, Ohio, Friday
Final Match Play Standings (after 48 games, including match play bonus pins; top five advance to live ESPN stepladder finals Sunday at 1 p.m. ET)