FAIRLAWN — There’s another man at the top of the bowling summit.
Jason Belmonte, just as he had all week, led wire-to-wire to defeat EJ Tackett 225-196 in the stepladder finals title match to win the Tournament of Champions at AMF Riviera Lanes on Sunday afternoon.
It was Belmonte’s 10th career PBA major title, tying Earl Anthony and Pete Weber for the all-time record. It was also Belmonte’s third Tournament of Champions title, joining Mike Durbin and Jason Couch as the only bowlers to accomplish that feat.
And it effectively secured Belmonte’s place among the sport’s all-time best.
“I don’t think it’s completely sunk in, but just the simple fact that my name is next to Earl Anthony and Pete Weber, I mean, it doesn’t seem real,” Belmonte said. “It seems a bit odd. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m super proud and honored to be on that same level with those guys in regards to majors.”
Belmonte entered Sunday’s stepladder finals as the No. 1 seed, meaning he only needed to win one match to win the title. Tackett, the No. 3 seed, first defeated No. 4-seed Josh Blanchard 264-236 and then took down No. 2 seed Marshall Kent 238-192 to advance to the title match against Belmonte.
Belmonte’s run to the title on Sunday wasn’t without a hiccup. Belmonte started on a run of four consecutive strikes before failing to knock down the 10 pin in the fifth frame, ending his streak. It also ended his run toward $1 million, as the PBA was running a $1 million bonus for a 300 game in the title match.
With the chance at $1 million gone, Belmonte rushed to the line and missed the spare, a sudden reversal of fortune that briefly gave Tackett a window.
“When I left that 10 pin, honestly it just felt like it all hit you, like, ‘OK, the million is gone,’ ” Belmonte said. “I was more nervous shooting at that 10 pin than I was starting the match or even the fourth frame.”
Belmonte prides himself on taking his time and being able to handle single pins. That miss, while a bit rattled, was against his character. It didn’t last long. Belmonte rebounded to roll a strike in the sixth frame and cruised from there, etching his way into history and in one of the most storied buildings in bowling.
“If the walls could talk, right?” Belmonte said. “It’s such an honor to be able to take the same approaches and bowl in the same lanes as some, maybe all, of the greatest players in the history of our game. To win in this building is such a huge honor.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.