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It must be October. With the certainty of spectacular fall foliage and baseball's postseason in full swing, Walter Ray Williams Jr. is back in Rochester as a top contender for the Professional Bowlers Association player of the year.

Williams is not only going for his fourth player's award, having been voted the honor in 1986, 1993 and 1996, but he is seeking his fourth tour victory of the year and a threepeat in Rochester in the Ebonite Challenge, Sunday through Wednesday, at Marcel's Olympic Bowl.

Walter Ray knows bowling history.

"I think the last time somebody won three in a row was back in 1983 when Earl Anthony won the national championship for the sixth time (1973-74-75 and 1981-82-83)," Williams said, "so if I could manage to win three in a row here, that would be quite an accomplishment.

"I've won back-to-back a couple of different times in my career but to win three in a row at one place that would definitely be a big feather in my cap." Anthony's first three PBA National victories were at two sites but his last three were all in Toledo, Ohio.

As for player of the year, Williams said: "It's very tight this year. Right now it depends on your point of view. Parker Bohn, Pete Weber and myself, I think, are definitely the three leading candidates.

"Parker and Pete both have two titles. (Norm Duke, Brian Voss, Wayne Webb and Tim Criss also have two). Parker's got a little bit more money. The two Parker won were big tournaments ($48,000 and $35,000 winner's share). The three tournaments I won, one was pretty good size ($30,000) and two were kinda small. And Pete won a really big tournament ($50,000).

"I'm just very pleased with the way I'm bowling this year and I think the player of the year race is gonna go down to probably the Touring Players Championship (Nov. 8-12 in Pittsburgh), if not the doubles tournament with the ladies (the Merit Mixed Doubles with LPBT members Dec. 13-14 in Las Vegas).

"It's looking real good for a great race and you never know, one of these other guys may stick their face in it."

Weber was the runner-up to Williams in Rochester last year, 232-223. With his second-place finish worth $11,000 Wednesday in the Ebonite Challenge in Windsor Locks, Conn., Weber became the PBA's second $2-million man. Williams reached that career milestone in June.

The Rochester tournament is the second of five fall events in which the 24 match-play qualifiers earn points, with the top three points leaders competing in a winner-take-all televised match for $10,000 in the final Ebonite Challenge Nov. 5 in Chesapeake, Va.

The field in Rochester includes 1986 winner Tom Baker of Buffalo, Lackawanna's Jack Jurek and Brian Eaton of Buffalo and last year's third-place finisher Chris Hooper of Maple Springs.

Baker reached millionaire status this year by winning the Harrisburg (Pa.) Open with a championship-match victory over Williams. It was Baker's eighth career title.

Jurek, a part-timer on the tour, finished 20th this week in Windsor Locks, where he won his only PBA title in 1995.

Doug Kent of Canandaigua, who won the Japan Cup last month for his second PBA title (he also won an ABC Masters championship) is also entered. Kent is sixth in season's earnings and a top 24 finish in Rochester would put him over $100,000 for the year.


LOCATION: Marcel's Olympic Bowl, 1350 Scottsville Rd. Take Thruway to LeRoy Exit, follow 490 East to 390 South, take second exit at Scottsville Road, turn right.

SCHEDULE AND TICKETS: Sunday -- Qualifying squads at 9 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. ($6); 4 and 7:15 p.m. ($7). Monday -- Squads at 9 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. ($6) for cut to 24. March play at 6:45 p.m. ($10). Tuesday -- Match play at 11 a.m. ($8) and 6:15 p.m. ($12) for cut to top 5. Wednesday -- Stepladder finals at 7:30 p.m. ($12). Four-day pass Sunday through Wednesday ($35).

TV: Wednesday, 7:30 to 9 p.m., ESPN.

INFORMATION: 235-5341.

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