PLANO, Texas - It may have taken three days and all 24 games of qualifying, but three-time defending champion Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, found her way to the top of the standings at the 2017 U.S. Women's Open.
The 43-year-old right-hander entered the final day of qualifying at Plano Super Bowl in fifth place and averaged nearly 236 during her final block to sneak into the lead with a 24-game total of 5,522, just five pins ahead of Jodi Woessner of Oregon, Ohio (5,517).
Second-round leader Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, is third with a 5,434 total and followed by Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska (5,416), and last year's U.S. Women's Open runner-up Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio (5,413), the only left-hander to make the first cut this year.
The five are among the 38 competitors, from a field of 114, who advanced to Friday's eight-game cashers' round based on their 24-game pinfall totals. Sweden's Isabelle Hultin earned the final spot with a 5,147 total, a 214.46 average.
The U.S. Women's Open is the third of four majors on the 2017 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour schedule and will conclude live on CBS Sports Network on Sunday, starting at noon Eastern. The winner will take home $20,000 and the event's coveted green jacket.
Johnson, a United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer with five U.S. Women's Open titles (1996, 2007, 2013, 2015 and 2016), got better with each round on the 43-foot oil pattern but made sure to keep her emotions in check. That included not getting down if she happened to have a low game and not getting too fired up when things were going well.
She has navigated the long U.S. Women's Open format enough times to know one or two games will not determine the outcome, and she kept that in mind Thursday when she shot 173 in her fourth game.
The two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year then moved to the low end of the of the bowling center, made a ball change and calmly got comfortable again. She finished with games of 214, 265, 300 and 236 to pass Woessner, who closed the morning round with 247, 279 and 270 to set the bar.
Johnson's 300 was one of six rolled during the three days of qualifying at Plano Super Bowl, and while the U.S. Women's Open has a reputation of being one of the more challenging events on the schedule, Johnson saw the higher scoring pace this year as a different kind of grind.
"The first day, I probably got a little down on myself," Johnson said. "You start to look around and see other players shooting 250, and I'm shooting 180-190 and losing ground. I was able to step back and let it go. It's a grind out there, but a different kind of grind with scores being a little higher. I just have to keep it up and hope to be up there Sunday."
The lanes at Plano Super Bowl only were oiled once per day during qualifying, giving all competitors the chance to experience each phase of the oil pattern - fresh, burn and double-burn.
Johnson's final round came on the double-burn, which she expected would be the most challenging for her. Instead, it was her highest block by 25 pins.
"Right now, I'm able to take a very deep breath and leave this building with a great attitude," said Johnson, who had blocks of 1,886 on the double-burn, 1,861 on the fresh oil pattern and 1,775 on the burn. "I really didn't think this would be one of my better squads, but I was proud of being very consistent in each squad."
Friday's cashers' round will get underway at 11 a.m. Eastern, after which, 32-game pinfall totals will determine the 32 players who advance to round-robin match play Friday night.
By Saturday night, 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will determine the five players for Sunday's live TV finals.
The championship round of the U.S. Women's Open is one of four being contested Sunday at Plano Super Bowl. The finals of the 2017 PWBA Orlando Open, PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open and Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open will be taped for broadcast on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 15, Aug. 22 and Aug. 29, respectively.
All qualifying and match play rounds of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open can be watched live on Xtra Frame, the online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association.