Jason Belmonte entered this week’s PBA Tournament of Champions as the favorite in a loaded field at Riviera Lanes.
And he will enter Sunday’s stepladder finals in first place with a chance to tie the PBA record for career major titles — on top of being guaranteed at least a shot at $1 million.
Belmonte built a comfortable lead through three rounds of qualifying and match play (42 games overall) throughout the week, leaving little doubt he’d secure the coveted No. 1 spot heading into Sunday. Friday night’s third and final round of match play cut the field, which started this week with 76 bowlers, down to the final five who will compete in the stepladder finals Sunday afternoon.
Belmonte will be joined by Marshall Kent, EJ Tackett, Josh Blanchard and Sean Lavery-Spahr as the Nos. 2-5 seeds, respectively.
In a stepladder final, the No. 5 seed (Lavery-Spahr) will first face the No. 4 seed (Blanchard) with the winner advancing to face the No. 3 seed (Tackett), and so on. So Belmonte will only need to win one match on Sunday to secure his 10th major title, which would tie Pete Weber and Earl Anthony for the PBA record.
Last year at Riviera Lanes, Matt O’Grady entered as the fifth seed and won four consecutive matches to claim the title.
Sunday’s title match also features a $1 million bonus for a 300 game, which has only happened twice during a title match in PBA history. The stepladder finals begin at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised live on Fox Sports.
Belmonte said he knows he’ll be on the cusp of history on Sunday. His goal is keep that as far away from his mind as possible.
“It’s one game,” Belmonte said. “I’ll be sitting back, waiting and watching in the wings. I know there’s $1 million, I know there’s a 10th major, I know there’s a lot of distractions. ... Right now I just want to think about making 10 of the best shots of my life.”
Belmonte also joked Friday night that he’d cut a deal with the PBA, saying he’d take a $50,000 check right now to forgo the chance at $1 million with a 300 game.
For Kent, the No. 2 seed in Sunday’s stepladder finals, this week has largely been the result of recent, three-week trip back to his home in Yakima, Wash. Kent was struggling and knew something was off, so he went back home to work with his dad and main coach, Jim. Working out and bowling as much as he possibly could, he lost 18 pounds in those three weeks and came back stronger than he’s ever been. The results, so far, have been all positive.
“Well, the first two weeks of the year did not go too well, and physically I wasn’t throwing it very well at all, but mentally I was still in a good place,” Kent said. “I worked with my dad for three weeks ... and finally got back to where I wanted to be.”
There have been four 300 games bowled in the tournament so far. Annop Arromsaranon and Cristian Azcona each bowled 300 in the second qualifying round, Blanchard did so in the third qualifying round and Lavery-Spahr was perfect in the second match-play round.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.