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December 19, 2014

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Stacked field competes for bowling title

San Diego’s Mike DeVaney jumps out to early lead at Red Rock

The Professional Bowling Association’s A-list, past and present, converged at Red Rock Lanes Tuesday to prepare for this year’s Anniversary H&R Block Tournament of Champions. Known as the premiere invitational event of the PBA since its start in 1965, the atmosphere was loose but serious as the players warmed up for Wednesday’s qualifying rounds.

“To me, this is the pinnacle of our sport,” said 32-time title winner Parker Bohn III. “When you look at this tournament, this is literally the best of the best. You have to beat all of the best to win this tournament. You have to earn everything you get here, everyone is in this tournament because they’re not afraid to step it up in the 10th.”

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the PBA, so the Tournament of Champions should be extra special as the tour extended invitations to each of the recently named 50 greatest players in the sport’s history. Also receiving invitations are all exempt bowlers who have earned previous overall title wins as well as previous Tournament of Champions victors.

Considering the guest list, it seems the Tournament of Champions will live up to its name.

“I think this year is a little bit special,” said all-time titles leader Walter Ray Williams Jr. “The PBA has went all out, inviting the whole top 50 and helping bring them out. I think most of those guys are going to make it and that’s going to be great.”

Mike DeVaney from San Diego got off to a great start Wednesday, jumping out to the overall lead with an average of 244.31 after 16 games in qualifying.

DeVaney, who won his lone PBA Tour title six years ago in Tacoma, Wash., said his 29-pin lead over first-round leader Ryan Shafer was a nice start to the tourney.

“You can’t pay attention to the scoreboard when you’re bowling these guys,” DeVaney told pba.com. “I’m confident. I’m very happy to be bowling well, especially after the way I’ve bowled the first part of the season. I’ve been dealing with a couple of physical issues, but I think I have them under control.

“I feel good about where I am, but the position right now is irrelevant to where you want to be in the end.”

Qualifying will continue today when the field of 60 will be sliced to the top 24 competitors, who will bowl three eight-match rounds tonight and on Friday. The top four bowlers after 48 games advance to Sunday’s ESPN televised (9:30 a.m. PT) stepladder finals. The winner is guaranteed a $50,000 prize and a two-year Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour exemption.

Bowling fans that have followed the extended release of the PBA’s 50 greatest list have only a few more days to wait until the unveiling of the top two players ever. The honor of the best PBA bowler will go to either Williams Jr. or to legendary lefty Earl Anthony who retired in 1983 and died at the age of 63 in 2001. The official announcement will take place at Red Rock Casino Saturday night at a Hall of Fame Ceremony.

Anthony’s 43 Tour titles were the most of any bowler for 30 years until Williams Jr. broke that mark in 2007. One thing that has helped Williams Jr. break nearly every record Anthony set has been his longevity. He’s been a PBA member since 1980 and at 49-years-old still has the ability to win more tournaments.

“If I’m one or two it doesn’t matter, I’m more than happy to be considered one of the best,” Williams Jr. said. “At 49 I’m just real happy to still be competitive at this stage in my career. I really didn’t think I’d last this long. I just love to compete, I get frustrated when I have tough weeks but fortunately that doesn’t happen very often, if it did I wouldn’t enjoy being out here.”

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