by Jerry Schneider | Saturday, February 15, 6:42 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A clutch performance in the 10th frame of the championship match gave Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a thrilling 233-232 victory over top seed EJ Tackett of Bluffton, Indiana, to win the PBA Players Championship Saturday at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl for his second career major title.
The 38-year-old O’Neill threw the first two strikes and a nine count in the 10th frame, leaving a four pin on the final shot, which was enough to also win his first title of the 2020 Go Bowling PBA Tour season and 12th of his career.
“To double in the 10th frame for a win in a major is why we do what we do,” said O’Neill. “The first two strikes were perfect, but the fill ball wasn’t as good as the first two but still good enough to win.
“My heart rate was really up and I needed to take a breath and slow things down so I took a rerack before that last shot in the 10th,” O’Neill added. “I pulled up on the shot a little and thought it was either going to push through or not, so I kind of felt fortunate to get what I needed.”
His win came nearly 10 years exactly after winning the U.S. Open for his first major title on Feb. 28, 2010.
“When I left the four pin on the final shot I didn’t know what to think,” said O’Neill who was the beneficiary of a crossover strike in the seventh frame. “I’ve made the top five in the last four of five majors and I felt if I just kept putting myself in a position to win eventually things would go my way and it did today.”
Tackett, who was trying for his third major and 14th career tour title got off to an early lead starting with five consecutive strikes but ran into trouble in the sixth frame when he left the 3-4-6-7 split which he failed to convert. Tackett left a 10 pin in the ninth frame and a seven pin on the first shot of the 10th frame, converted the spares, before striking on his last shot of the 10th frame but that still left the door open for O’Neill.
“I did think here we go again, somebody is going to throw a big game at me in the championship match,” said O’Neill, who lost to Kris Prather of Plainfield, Illinois, 280-205 in the title match of last week’s PBA Tournament of Champions. “He (Tackett) left that split in the sixth frame and I thought to myself the ball is in your hand, now go do it.”
O’Neill, the No. 3 seed for the finals defeated No. 2 seed Australian two-hander Jason Belmonte 236-185 in the semifinal who continued his recent struggles to win matches on TV.
Belmonte, the all-time leader on the PBA major titles list with 11 wins was trying to become the first three-time winner of the Players Championship having previously won it in 2011 and 2017.
The finals started with Prather, the No. 5 seed trying for back-to-back major titles after his Tournament of Champions win, beating No. 4 seed four-time tour winner Marshall Kent of Yakima, Washington, 187-184, in the opening match who was trying for his first major win.
O’Neill then beat Prather 215-194 in the second match to advance to the semifinal against Belmonte.