RENO, Nev. - Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio, has continued to put himself in position to become a champion on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, and he broke through in a major way Sunday at the 2021 U.S. Open.The 29-year-old right-hander claimed the first title of his career and a $30,000 top prize with a dramatic 214-213 victory over Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, at the famed National Bowling Stadium.
Via became the first No. 1 seed to win the prestigious title and coveted green jacket since 2015, and the title tilt came down to the final delivery of the long week.
Butturff had the opportunity to throw three strikes in his final frame to force a roll-off, but he fell short. He left a 2 pin after delivering two strikes, the second of which featured a messenger taking out the 7 pin.
"I fully expected to be bowling in a roll-off, especially after Jakob's first two shots, but the last one was a little off and didn't strike," said Via, who won a team gold medal with Butturff at the 2017 International Bowling Federation World Championships. "It was more shock at first when he didn't get it, then the realization that I won, and I'm a major champion. To do it at this event, and at the Stadium, the Mecca of bowling, is a dream come true."
The finalists were separated by one pin after seven frames and both working on spares in the eighth frame. Butturff followed with the first errant shot of his two games on the TV show, and a 3-7-9 split gave Via the opportunity to win.
After a fourth consecutive single-pin spare, Via could've put the game out of reach with nine, spare, strike in his final frame. Instead, he left the 2-8 combination on his first offering, spared it and struck on the fill ball to force Butturff to throw three strikes for a tie.
The loss marked the third runner-up finish for Butturff at the U.S. Open, with the first two coming in 2017 and 2018, where he was the top seed by more than 550 pins. He also lost the 2018 event by a single pin, falling 207-206 to England's Dom Barrett. Former Team USA member Rhino Page cruised to the win in 2017.
"If you keep finishing second at one of the most challenging and prestigious events, you're obviously doing something right," said Butturff, who also finished second in the PBA World Championship and Chameleon Championship this year, both part of the recent World Series of Bowling. "In these longer formats, it's about who has the patience and stamina, as well as versatility and the ability to both strike and spare. To keep getting to that level says something, and if I can keep giving myself opportunities to win it, hopefully I can eventually be the one winning by a pin."
The seven-time PBA Tour champion, including the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Masters, entered the stepladder as the second seed, hoping the different perspective, and the recent success of the No. 2 seeds at the U.S. Open, would offer a different fate. It certainly looked like that could be the case as he delivered nine strikes in his first match Sunday.
The 26-year-old left-hander was in complete control in the semifinal and rolled to a 257-203 win over 18-year-old Junior Team USA member Anthony Neuer of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Neuer, whose father, Andy, is a PBA Tour champion, was looking to become the youngest bowler to win a major title on the PBA Tour.
Though he fell short of that goal, he did add his name to the record book by becoming the fourth bowler in history, and first since 1991, to pick up the 7-10 split on a PBA telecast.
Anthony Simonsen became the PBA Tour's youngest major champion when he won the USBC Masters in 2016. USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke set the overall record when he won his first title in 1983 at 18 years, 345 days old.
Neuer's path to the semifinal was unobstructed, as a pair of open frames from Cristian Azcona of Clermont, Florida, helped the young southpaw pick up his first TV win on the PBA Tour.
The four-time member of Junior Team USA, struck in six of his first eight frames to deny Azcona the ultimate 27th birthday present by a score of 236-200.
Azcona also was looking to become the first bowler from Puerto Rico to win a PBA Tour major. His win at the PBA Xtra Frame Wilmington Open in 2018 made him the first bowler from the island to claim a PBA Tour title of any kind.
The day's opening match was a high-scoring all-urethane battle between Azcona and three-time PBA Tour champion Jason Sterner of Rochester, New York.
Azcona started with four consecutive strikes to build a 13-pin lead, and he delivered three more strikes in his final frame to lock out the 37-year-old right-hander. The final score was 258-256.
Sterner, who finished fourth in last week's USBC Masters and was looking for his first major title, bowled a near-maximum 100 games between the two events, both at the National Bowling Stadium.
All five major winners from this season now will meet in the PBA Super Slam, which will air live on FOX on April 18.
Joining Via in that event will be Kyle Troup (PBA Players Championship), Francois Lavoie (PBA Tournament of Champions) and Tom Daugherty (Guaranteed Rate PBA World Championship) and Thomas Larsen (Masters).
The 2021 U.S. Open started with 108 competitors, all of whom bowled 24 games of qualifying across three oil patterns, before total pinfall determined the 36 bowlers who advanced to Friday morning's Cashers' Round on a fourth lane condition.
The final pattern, a 42-foot condition, was used throughout match play and was featured again on the TV show Sunday.
Following the Cashers' Round, 32-game pinfall totals determined the 24 players for round-robin match play, and their 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each match they won, determined the five bowlers for Sunday's stepladder.
Via entered the Cashers' Round in 24th place and closed with games of 279, 300 and 240 to secure his spot in match play, qualifying 16th. In the rounds that followed, he moved up to 10th, then third, before a position-round win against Butturff earned him the top seed for the show.
The majority of the competitors this week earned direct entry into the event based on their on-lane performances throughout 2020, while 43 bowlers advanced to the 108-player field through last Sunday's eight-game pre-tournament qualifier.
For more information on the U.S. Open, visit BOWL.com/USOpen.