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Precious GEICO spots up for grabs

Sean Rash, a winner two weeks ago in the West Virginia Open; Dale Eagle, a Senior Tour standout; U.S. Amateur champion Dan Patterson; and some of Western New York's best amateurs are among the 100 or so bowlers entered in today's GEICO Classic qualifying tournament at Thruway Lanes.

The bowling for the Tour Qualifier was to begin at noon in the Cheektowaga establishment. Each participant will bowl seven games with the top five plus the top amateur earning a place in the 64-bowler field for Thursday's GEICO Classic, the first PBA Tour event here since 1991.

Rash, 23, made Tour history two weeks ago when he entered the West Virginia Open via the qualifier and went on to win the championship. Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga had been the first bowler to get to the championship finals after making a Tour event via the qualifier but she lost to Tommy Jones in the title match of the Banquet Open in Wyoming, Mich. last March.

Jones won his first major, capturing the U.S. Open in North Brunswick, N.J. last Sunday, defeating Ryan Shafer of Horseheads in the final match.

Rash has to go through today's qualifier even though he has earned a Tour exemption for the 2006-07 season via his victory in West Virginia.

Patterson, who is from Phoenix, Ariz., but now lives in West Seneca, won the U.S. Amateur title and a berth on Team USA last month.

Eagle won twice on the PBA Senior Tour last summer.

Del Ballard Jr. and Bob Learn, who both have been winners on the tour, are two of the nonexempt pros who are entered in today's qualifier.

Ryan Ciminelli, 19, of Cheektowaga, the 2004 Teen Masters champion, heads the local amateurs trying to make the field. Cody Westfield of Depew, Ciminelli's teammate at Erie Community College, is also entered.

Jason Ciliberto of Gasport, Mike Zarcone of Tonawanda, Matt Zasowski of Buffalo and Peter Zmozynski of Depew are among the locals attempting to make the GEICO field by being low amateur in the qualifier.

Five PBA member spots are open this week because exempt pro Danny Wiseman of Baltimore is taking the week off. That means 57 exempt pros will be on hand for the start of the GEICO on Thursday. Johnson, who received the Commissioner's Exemption into the field, and the top amateur qualifier will complete the field.

The first of this week's Pro-Am sessions will be at 7 tonight. On Thursday, the field of 64 will bowl one seven-game qualifying block starting at 10 a.m. The second seven-game block will go off at 6 p.m. The top 32 qualifiers will enter Friday's match play beginning at 9 a.m. Another round of match play will begin at 2 p.m. The match play round of eight to decide the four bowlers for Sunday's televised (ESPN, 12:30 p.m.) championship finals will begin at 7 p.m. Friday.


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