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EJ Tackett leads top five into PBA Tournament of Champions finals


Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year EJ Tackett of Huntington, Ind., will lead the field of five finalists into the 52nd FireLake Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions stepladder finals live on ESPN Sunday at 1 p.m. ET after an intense final qualifying round Saturday that saw 10 players within reach of the TV show going into the final game.

The only thing that was decided going into the final qualifying game was that Tackett (right), a 24-year-old rising star, had locked up the top berth in Sunday’s finals, and 18-time PBA Tour winner Tommy Jones (left) of Simpsonville, S.C., had safely clinched second place.

Tackett averaged 238 for the 39-game qualifying portion of the tournament, finishing with a total of 9,294 pins and a 49-pin lead over Jones.

Behind those two, the leader board re-shuffled throughout the round before England’s Dom Barrett (right) locked up the third spot; Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., rolled a 258 final game to knock Australia’s Jason Belmonte out of the show; and PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, Mo., held on by the tips of his fingernails for the fifth berth in the finals, finishing six pins ahead of fellow hall of famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla.

Tackett, who won the PBA Players Championship in December to crown his Player of the Year performance, came into the Tournament of Champions after a disappointing 58th-place finish in last week’s Barbasol PBA Players Championship.

“It was one of those weeks,” Tackett said. “I thought I bowled pretty well, but I didn’t match up. It was just a case of bad ball reaction.”

He righted his ship in Shawnee after a modest start.

“My score the first day wasn’t a lot but the second day I got the right ball in my hand and started striking,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I did anything different than last week, but I threw a lot of strikes. That’s how this week went.”

Tackett made the TOC finals in 2016, but lost in the opening match to Tom Daugherty of Riverview, Fla., 231-221.

“I bowled a good game, but I got out-bowled. Not much you can do about that,” Tackett said. Hopefully it’ll work out better this year. I’ve been able to get on some shows lately, and performed well. I know I can win, so that does a lot for my confidence. Hopefully I can apply that tomorrow and come out with a win.”

Sunday’s first match will pit Smallwood (left), the 2010 PBA World Champion and 2011 TOC runner-up, against Weber (right), who will be trying for a PBA-record 11th career major title.

Weber, the only player ever to complete the PBA Triple Crown twice, won his first TOC in 1987 and became the oldest player ever to win the event when he won again in Indianapolis in 2012 at age 50 years, 222 days. He is tied with the late Earl Anthony for the most PBA major titles.

Barrett, a four-time PBA Tour winner, won his only major in the 2013 PBA World Championship.

In addition to the live telecast on ESPN Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, the finals also will be live streamed simultaneously on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.

PBA players now head west to The Orleans in Las Vegas for the United States Bowling Congress Masters, the third consecutive major championship on PBA’s “Big February” schedule.

Masters gets underway with qualifying rounds Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to determine the 63 players who will join defending champion Anthony Simonsen of Austin, Texas, in the three-game, double-elimination match play rounds Friday and Saturday. The stepladder finals will air live on ESPN on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 1 p.m. ET.

All qualifying and match play rounds of the Masters will be live streamed on PBA’s Xtra Frame online bowling channel. For subscription information, click here. Sunday’s finals also will be live streamed on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.

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From left to right: EJ Tackett, Tommy Jones, Dom Barrett, Tom Smallwood and Pete Weber.

52nd PBA FireLake Tournament of Champions – Final Qualifying Standings

Players with position, hometown and 39-game total

1, EJ Tackett, Huntington, Ind., 9,294
2, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 9,245
3, Dom Barrett, England, 9,156
4, Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 9,131
5, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., 9,115

Missed Cut:
6, Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 9,109, $7,000
7, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 9,090, $5,500
8, Brad Angelo, Lockport, N.Y., 9,078, $5,000
9 (tie), Anthony Simonsen, Austin, Texas, 9,071,
and Mitch Beasley, Clarksville, Tenn., 9,071, $4,300
11, Marshall Kent, Yakima, Wash., 9,047, $3,800
12, Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 9,038, $3,600
13, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 9,031, $3,400
14, BJ Moore III, Greensburg, Pa., 8,977, $3,300
15, Stuart Williams, England, 8,972, $3,200
16, Anthony Lavery-Spahr, Pasadena, Texas, 8,959, $3,100.

Herbert Bickel

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