Stuart Williams is Top Qualifier Heading Into USBC Masters Match Play

by Jerry Schneider April 12, 2018 21:17

By Aaron Smith, USBC Communications

England's Stuart Williams paced the field for the second consecutive day at the 2018 USBC Masters  to finish as the top overall qualifier for the tournament's double-elimination match-play bracket.

After surging to the top of the standings at the Oncenter Convention Center on Wednesday, Williams added a 1,076 set Thursday to finish qualifying with a 15-game total of 3,295, a 219.6 average.

Anthony Simonsen of Austin, Texas, the 2016 USBC Masters champion, qualified second with 3,250, Team USA's Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, was third with 3,247, tournament newcomer Brandon Biondo of Carpentersville, Illinois, was fourth with 3,234 and Sean Lavery-Spahr of Pasadena, Texas, rounded out the top five with 3,224.

Action at the 2018 Masters now shifts to match play, with the first half of the bracket taking the lanes Friday at 9 a.m. Eastern. Winners will be determined by three-game total pinfall.

Match play will continue throughout the day Friday and into Saturday, and the final five players will advance to the stepladder finals, which will be broadcast live on ESPN on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Williams, a 36-year-old right-hander who now resides in Phoenix, averaged more than 224 during his two blocks on the tournament's fresh 40-foot lane condition. He's seen favorable ball reaction throughout the week, and now will rely on his experience to help him back to the stepladder finals. He finished third at the 2013 Masters held in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

"I've been able to have good ball reaction for most of this week from multiple angles, so that should play favorably for me in matches," said Williams, who won the 2011 Professional Bowlers Association Bayer Viper Open. "From here out, it's just about making good shots, hopefully staying ahead of the transition and making good choices."

Williams also thinks this week's challenging condition will lead to some interesting decisions in match play.

"I think with how challenging the pattern played, urethane will be out of play for most of the guys," Williams said. "I'm sure a few will try, but there seems to be way too much oil to the outside part of the lane. That'll bring a few more tactics into play for matches, like being able to break it down in different parts of the lane, so it should be interesting."

Williams will face Ramon Hilferink of the Netherlands in the first round of match play Friday. Hilferink earned the No. 64 seed in a four-way roll-off to determine the final two spots in the bracket.

Hilferink rolled a 190 game to hold on to the final spot, while Charlie Brown of Grandville, Michigan, will be No. 63 in the bracket after posting 201. Ryan Patterson of Washington, West Virginia, and Chad Roberts of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, were eliminated after games of 182 and 177, respectively. All four players finished qualifying with a 3,054 total, a 203.6 average.

Brown will start match play against Simonsen, who had a much different experience in Syracuse this week compared to his time in Las Vegas for the 2017 event, where he entered as the defending champion and automatically was seeded into match play.

With some extra excitement and fanfare heading into last year's event, the 21-year-old two-hander qualified 59th, slightly improving his spot in the bracket after being guaranteed the No. 64 spot. He admitted he really didn't settle into the right frame of mind as early as he would've liked. He won his first match but eventually finished tied for 17th place.

"It's different coming back to try and defend a title, especially at this event and with how the seeding works," said Simonsen, whose Masters win made him the youngest major champion in PBA history at 19 years and 39 days old. "It was tougher to get into tournament mode knowing I already was in the top 64, and I ended up getting a slower start in match play before everything kicked back to normal. Having to earn my spot this week, I was in the right mindset from the get go."

Simonsen will look to take what he's learned through qualifying at the Oncenter Convention Center and match his performance from 2016, where he went undefeated in match play and defeated Canada's Dan MacLelland in the title match, 245-207.

"I've figured out a trick to keep it around the pocket on the fresh and was able to get away with a couple of good games," said Simonsen, who owns three PBA Tour titles. "I'm going to stick with that as the game plan tomorrow. I'll have a couple of ball options available but plan on staying in that same zone."

This year's defending champion, Jason Belmonte of Australia, also improved his seeding, finishing qualifying in a tie for 42nd place with a 3,097 total.

Belmonte, who is seeking his fifth Masters title since 2013 and record-tying 10th career major, will bowl 2015 U.S. Open champion Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, New York, in his opening match Friday.

Other past champions advancing to match play include 2007 winner Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, and Tom Hess of Urbandale, Iowa, who captured the title in 2011.

Rash will face Tommy Jones of Simpsonville, South Carolina, in the first round, while Hess squares off against Steven Arehart of Chesapeake, Virginia.

All competitors at the 2018 Masters bowled 15 games of qualifying over three days to determine the 63 players joining Belmonte in match play.

The Masters, a major title on the PBA Tour, will have livestream coverage leading up to the stepladder finals on Xtra Frame, the PBA's online bowling channel. For subscription information, www.xtraframe.tv.

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