SHAWNEE, Okla. – EJ Tackett of Huntington, Ind., had four chances to throw doubles to take the lead, but in the end, he won his second Professional Bowlers Association major title in the 52nd FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions Sunday at FireLake Arena thanks in part to an unexpected error by his opponent.
Tackett, at age 24, defeated 18-time PBA Tour champion Tommy Jones of Simpsonville, S.C., 208-203, when Jones left and failed to convert the 1-2-4-10 “washout” in the 10th frame.
Tackett, who won the 2016 PBA World Championship in December for his first major, was certain he had lost the TOC title after he failed to double in the 10th frame.
“I knew if I doubled in the 10th, I’d force Tommy to strike on the right lane,” Tackett said. “But I never in a million years expected that. Tommy has been so good in situations like that his entire career, I didn’t think I had a chance. I was in total shock.”
After winning the DHC PBA Japan Invitational to start the year, the TOC victory gives Tackett a very early edge in defending his 2016 PBA Player of the Year title. But, he said, “it’s not even something to think about. It’s way too early and we have way too many tournaments to go.
With seven titles already in his young career, Tackett has demonstrated he has the skill and the confidence to stay at the top of the PBA’s elite.
“I do belong out here,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to do it every time I need to make a shot, and you’re going to have to beat me. It’s not arrogance, it’s just a level of confidence I’ve never had.”
In the opening match, Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., ended Pete Weber’s bid for a PBA-record 11th major championship, 223-203. Tied at 163 after eight frames, Smallwood finished the match first, throwing four strikes and forcing Weber to do the same to tie and force a roll-off. But the 54-year-old Weber, from St. Ann, Mo., left the 1-2-4-10 on his opening shot of the 10th frame to end the match.
England’s Dom Barrett then eliminated Smallwood, 235-202, striking on seven of his first eight shots to build an insurmountable lead after Smallwood left splits he couldn’t covert in the first and fourth frames.
Jones advanced to the title match, defeating Barrett in the semifinal match, 248-216, rolling a late string of six strikes to overcome Barrett’s early eight-pin lead.
PBA players begin competition in the United States Bowling Congress Masters, PBA’s third consecutive major championship in February, on Tuesday at The Orleans Bowling Center in Las Vegas. The Masters qualifying rounds will be held 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. Visit xtraframe.tv for subscription information. Sunday’s finals also will be live streamed on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
FIRELAKE PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
FireLake Bowling Center, Shawnee, Okla., Sunday
1, EJ Tackett, Huntington, Ind., $50,000.
2, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., $25,000.
3, Dom Barrett, England, $13,000.
4, Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., $11,000.
5, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., $10,000.
Match One – Smallwood def. Weber, 223-203.
Match Two – Barrett def. Smallwood, 235-202.
Semifinal Match – Jones def. Barrett, 248-216.
Championship – Tackett def. Jones, 208-203.