ARLINGTON, Texas - Some of the greatest players to ever throw a bowling ball have won the United States Bowling Congress Masters over the years, but it's been nearly five decades since a player has successfully defended his title.
This year, that daunting task belongs to Mike Fagan of Dallas. The 32-year-old won his first major title last year when he defeated Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, 246-213, to take the Masters title at Sunset Station's Strike Zone Bowling Center in Henderson, Nev.
A field of 468 of the world's top amateur and professional bowlers will look to dethrone Fagan when the 63rd USBC Masters takes place next week at Brunswick Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J.
"The Masters is tough to win because of the format and being a dominant player in that environment is extremely tough," Fagan said. "But if the lanes are as challenging as they have been in the past for the Masters, then I like my chances. I'm on my game right now and feeling good."
Should Fagan find the trophy in his arms again this year, he would become the first player to successfully defend his title since Billy Welu hoisted the trophy in 1965. Dick Hoover won consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957.
One advantage for Fagan is that he automatically makes the 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket as the defending champion. He will bowl qualifying to try to earn the highest seeding position possible.
"I'm definitely not upset that I get to be in the bracket already," Fagan said. "The fact that there are so many entries pouring in means it could be tough just to make the bracket. Making that cut is one less thing off my mind and it allows me to focus more on strategy."
The Masters will have some minor format changes this year, allowing all players to bowl 15 qualifying games (instead of 10 games in previous years, with only the cashers bowling 15 games). After 15 games, the top 63 players will join Fagan in the unique three-game, double-elimination match-play bracket.
The top five players at the conclusion of the bracket competition will compete in the live two-hour championship round on ESPN on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. ET.
To accommodate the change from four to five players making the television show, the final match in the Masters elimination bracket will consist of four players battling for the final three spots on the show. The four players will bowl one three-game match on the same pair of lanes on Saturday afternoon with the high score earning the No. 3 seed, the second high score No. 4 and third high score No. 5. The lowest scoring player will be eliminated.
The top two seeds on the TV finals will be awarded to the final two players in the winners bracket who then will bowl a three-game match to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
The Masters, which features a first-place prize of $50,000 and a total prize fund of at least $300,000, is a major event on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour and is part of the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Bowling Tour for the third consecutive season.
All qualifying and match play rounds of the Masters are being covered live on Xtra Frame, the PBA’s online bowling channel. For subscription information, visit pba.com.
For more information on the Masters, visit BOWL.com/Masters.