Western New York, a regular stop almost from the beginning of the PBA Tour, will welcome the sport's best professionals again this week for the Etonic Championship, today through Sunday at AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga.
The Denny's Tour returned to Western New York in February 2006 after a 15-year absence. The PBA Tour began in 1959 and the first local stop was in '61 in Niagara Falls. Fairlanes in Depew hosted the first Buffalo PBA Open in '64.
"We're excited to be back," said Kirk vonKrueger, Tour director, as the PBA staff began setting up shop for the week's run at the Walden Avenue facility Tuesday.
Competition begins with the Tour Qualifier from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Seven games will determine at least seven players plus the top amateur to fill out the 64-bowler field for the start of the Etonic Championship on Thursday. The other 56 spots in the field for Thursday are held by exempt pros on the Denny's Tour.
Besides the Etonic Classic, the companion PBA Women's Series has been added this season. This is the second stop in the four-event series among 16 top female bowlers. Carolyn Dorin-Ballard won the opener last week, defeating Missy Bellinder in the title match after a 4-0 sweep of Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, which included a 279 game.
Johnson, the Women's U.S. Open champion, had the best finish among Western New York bowlers, male or female, with a 14th in the USBC Masters two weeks ago in Milwaukee.
Johnson finished seventh in last year's Etonic here, after making her way into the field of 64 via the Tour Qualifier.
The Etonic is the fourth event on the 2007-08 season. Mika Koivuniemi won the Dydo Japan Cup in Tokyo in September. Sean Rash got the North American portion of the season under way by winning the USBC Masters. Last Sunday, Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams won the Motor City Classic in Taylor, Mich. for his record 44th career title.
Williams is one of four PBA Hall of Famers in the field. Another, of course, is Buffalo native Tom Baker of King, N.C., the reigning PBA Senior Tour Player of the year. The others are Parker Bohn III and defending Etonic champion Pete Weber.
The exempt list of pros includes four Western New Yorkers -- Baker, Brad Angelo of Lockport, Jack Jurek of Lackawanna and Joe Ciccone of Buffalo. Baker has 10 career Tour titles on his resume. Jurek has one. Angelo and Ciccone are looking for their first.
The Etonic field of 64 will bowl two seven-game qualifying blocks Thursday (10 a.m. and 5 p.m.) to halve the field for Friday's start of match play. Three rounds of match play Friday (9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) will determine the four bowlers for Sunday's television finals (ESPN, 1 p.m.). Total purse is $180,000 with $25,000 going to the winner.
The Women's Series bowlers will roll seven-game blocks at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday to bring the field to eight for match play. The women will bowl two elimination rounds of match play Friday (2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) to determine the two bowlers who will compete in the televised championship match Sunday. The women are competing for a top prize of $10,000 out of a total purse of $51,000.
At least 19 local bowlers are entered in today's Tour Qualifier.