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24th Malta Open Championships
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That tradition will resume when AMF Riviera Lanes hosts the return of the PBA’s signature tournament Feb. 5-11 after a 24-year absence. The first major championship of the 2018 Go Bowling! PBA Tour 60th Anniversary season will culminate with a live ESPN finals telecast Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. EST.
The 2018 TOC will feature an expected field of 80 PBA champions, including defending champion EJ Tackett (pictured above) of Huntington, Ind., who will battle for one of the most prestigious titles in the sport.
In addition to the tournament’s return to Fairlawn, Jason Belmonte‘s quest for a record-tying 10th major title, Liz Johnson‘s attempt to become the second woman to win the event, and the return of PBA greats Pete Weber and Walter Ray Williams Jr. to write another chapter in their storied careers are just a few of the compelling storylines for this year’s event. All preliminary rounds will be streamed live via the PBA’s online bowling channel Xtra Frame.
Here’s a look at some of the major storylines for the 53rd PBA Tournament of Champions:
TOC returns to traditional home: AMF Riviera Lanes hosts the return of the PBA’s signature tournament after a 24-year absence. The first major championship of the 2018 Go Bowling! PBA Tour 60th Anniversary season will culminate with a live ESPN finals telecast Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. EST. When the TOC was last held at AMF Riviera Lanes in 1994, PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke won the event with a 217-184 victory over Eric Forkel.
TOC is a tournament for champions only: The 2018 TOC will include an exclusive field of PBA champions. In order to be eligible, a player must be a PBA member who has won a PBA Tour, PBA Regional, PBA50 Tour, PBA Regional, or PBA Women’s Series title.
Four-time GEICO Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Jason Belmonte will try for another milestone in PBA history: With nine PBA major wins to his credit, 2017 GEICO Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Jason Belmonte, is one major title away from tying PBA Hall of Famers Pete Weber and Earl Anthony for the most the all-time major wins with 10. The 34-year-old two-hander from Australia will be trying for his third TOC win after winning back-to-back in 2014 (right) and 2015. Entering his 10th Tour season, Belmonte will also have his eye on setting a new mark for shortest time to reach 10 major titles. He has already set the mark for shortest time to win nine major titles (six seasons). A win would also put Belmonte in the exclusive three-time winners club joining Mike Durbin and Jason Couch.
EJ Tackett is defending champion: 2016 Player of the Year EJ Tackett (left) of Huntington, Ind., will defend his title in the hopes of becoming the first player since Belmonte to win the TOC in back-to-back seasons (2014 and 2015). Tackett, a nine-time Tour winner, won the 2017 TOC in Shawnee, Okla., by defeating Tommy Jones, 208-203, in the title match.
Pete Weber tries for a record 11th major and third TOC title: PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber won the 2013 Tournament of Champions (right) to tie Earl Anthony for most PBA major titles (10) and became the only player to win PBA’s Triple Crown (Tournament of Champions, U.S. Open and World Championship) twice. At age 50, the 37-time PBA Tour winner also became the oldest player to win the TOC. If he wins, Weber would also join Mike Durbin and Jason Couch as three-time TOC winners.
Other two-handers in the field: While Jason Belmonte brought the unique two-handed delivery to prominence in his rookie season in 2009, five other players who have enjoyed success on the PBA Tour using the two-handed technique will also be competing. They include 2016 TOC champion Jesper Svensson (left) of Sweden; five-time tour winner Osku Palermaa of Finland, three-time Tour champion Anthony Simonsen of Austin, Texas; two-time Tour winner Kyle Troup of Taylorsville, N.C. and Shawn Maldonado of Houston. At age 20, Svensson became the youngest TOC champion and at age 22, he is the youngest player to reach seven PBA Tour titles. At age 19, Simonsen won the 2016 USBC Masters to become the youngest player to win a major title.
TOC past winners entered: Past champions entered include defending champion EJ Tackett (2017), Jesper Svensson (2016), Jason Belmonte (2014, 2015); PBA Hall of Famers Pete Weber (1987, 2013), Norm Duke (1994), Johnny Petraglia (1971), Chris Barnes (right; 2006), and future Hall of Famers Sean Rash (2012) and Tommy Jones (2007).
Walter Ray Williams Jr. still trying for a TOC title: Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. (left) has accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish in PBA competition except winning the Tournament of Champions. A TOC title would make the all-time titles leader (47) the seventh player to complete the PBA Triple Crown (titles in the U.S. Open, PBA World Championship and TOC), and the third player in history to complete the PBA “Grand Slam” (titles in the U.S. Open, PBA World Championship, TOC and USBC Masters). Mike Aulby and Norm Duke are the only players who have completed the Grand Slam.
An historic event for women: Kelly Kulick (right) made sports history in 2010 by becoming the first woman ever to win a PBA Tour event when she won the TOC in Las Vegas. USBC Hall of Famer Liz Johnson will make her bid to become the second woman to win the TOC in this year’s event. Johnson became the second woman to win a PBA Tour tournament when she captured the 2017 PBA Chameleon Championship which was part of GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IX in Reno, Nev.
Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia to compete in final TOC: Another one of PBA’s all-time greats, 14-time PBA Tour champion and 1971 TOC champion Johnny Petraglia (left) will compete in his final TOC. The 70-year-old Petraglia is the only player in PBA history to win a national tour title (PBA Tour or PBA50 Tour) in six different decades.
International field: Nine countries are represented in the TOC field – Australia, Canada, Colombia, England, Finland, Sweden, Thailand, Venezuela, and the U.S.
TOC began in Indianapolis in 1962: Joe Joseph (right) won the inaugural TOC at Play Bowl in Indianapolis with a two-game 480 pinfall total in 1962. Billy Golembiewski was second with 416 pins and Hall of Famer Carmen Salvino finished third with 409 in the two-game total pinfall championship round.
TOC admission and pro-am information: Spectator passes for the TOC pre-tournament qualifier on Feb. 5 and the official practice session on Feb. 6 are $10. Spectator passes for qualifying and match play rounds Feb. 7-9 range from $15-$20 with all-day passes available for $20 and $30. Tickets for the stepladder finals range from $30-$50, if purchased in advance online at www.pba.com/tickets, and $50-$70 if purchased at the door. Tickets for all preliminary rounds will be available at the door.
Grassroots league bowlers who would like to participate in the TOC pro-am will have three opportunities on Saturday, Feb. 10. Squads will bowl at noon, 3 and 6 p.m. For pro-am entry information, contact AMF Riviera Lanes at 330-836-7985.
AMF Riviera Lanes in Fairlawn, Ohio, USA (Feb. 5-11, 2018); all times Eastern
Monday, February 5, 2018
3 p.m. – Pre-Tournament Qualifier (8 games)
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
2 p.m. – Practice Session
6:30 p.m. – King of Bowling exhibition match
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
11 a.m. – Qualifying Round 1 (6 games)
6 p.m. – Qualifying Round 2 (6 games)
Thursday, February 8, 2018
11 a.m. – Qualifying Round 3 (6 games)
6 p.m. – Match Play Round 1 (8 games)
Friday, February 9, 2018
11 a.m. – Match Play Round 2 (8 games)
6 p.m. – Match Play Round 3 (8 games)
Saturday, February 10, 2018
Noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. – Pro-am squads
Sunday, February 11, 2018
1 p.m. – ESPN Stepladder Finals
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