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Liz Johnson wins U.S. Women’s Open by one pin

Liz Johnson cut it as close as could be Sunday but defeated Shannon O’Keefe, 190-189, to win her fourth Bowlmor AMF U.S. Women’s Open bowling title at the Brunswick Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J.

Johnson became the first to successfully defend the title since Hall of Famer Dorothy Fothergill accomplished the feat in 1969. She joined three-time Open winner Kelly Kulick as the only bowlers to win the USBC Queens and U.S. Women’s Open in the same year. The victory was worth $50,000 for the 41-year-old Hall of Famer from Cheektowaga.

It turned out to be an adventuresome finish for the finalists. O’Keefe – formerly of Rochester now living in O’Fallon, Ill., where she is the coach of the women’s team at McKendree College – had a chance to close out the match with a strike and seven pins in the 10th frame. Her first ball was a washout, however, and she failed to convert the spare, leaving the 10-pin. Johnson went last and needed a spare and seven pins to win the title. Liz converted the 4-pin for her spare and then felled just the seven pins she needed on her final ball.

“I made the best shot I could in the 10th, hoping to strike, so I didn’t have to worry as much,” said Johnson, who also won the Open in 1996, 2007 and 2013 (the tournament was not bowled in 2014). “I shanked the last shot, but it was enough. This is going to take a while to sink in, for sure. When the tour folded in 2003, we had no idea all of this would come back. It has been an incredible year, and I’m very grateful.”

Johnson’s win at the Queens in Green Bay, Wis., in May kicked off the 2015 Professional Women’s Bowling Association schedule. That victory secured her a spot in next week’s season-ending The Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship promoted by GoBowling.com, where she’ll be seeded right into the semifinals as the 2015 PWBA points leader.

“This has been an amazing year, to say the least,” said Johnson, who won last week’s PWBA Detroit Open, too. “I haven’t made the Queens show when I’ve won the U.S. Open, and I didn’t make the U.S. Open show when I won the Queens (2009), so I was pretty happy just to get here. But once you’re there, you want to take advantage. I didn’t make the best shots I could have or should have, but I got it done.”

Johnson, who was No. 2 on the five-bowlers stepladder, advanced to the final with a 199-177 win over Jazreel Tan of Singapore. Tan had rallied from 28 pins down to defeat Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, 172-165. Tan started the day with a 195-190 victory over Kulick.

The win capped the most grueling tournament in women’s bowling. All competitors bowled 24 games of qualifying before the field was cut to 24 for 24 games of match play to determine the five finalists for the championship round on the CBS Sports Network.