ORLANDO, Fla. - The Professional Women's Bowling Association returns to Boardwalk Bowl for the third consecutive season and the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open, which starts Thursday, might prove to be a key stop of the season.
It is the final elite-field event of the 2019 season and could prove to be a key turning point as players fight to earn a position for the rapidly approaching PWBA Tour Championship.
A pre-tournament qualifier (PTQ) at 9 a.m. Eastern on Thursday will determine a minimum of eight bowlers who will advance to the 32-player field. On Friday, a pair of eight-game qualifying rounds will determine the top 12 players for an additional round Saturday morning. After six additional games for the advancers on Saturday morning, the top five players advance to Saturday's stepladder finals.
CBS Sports Network will have live coverage of the stepladder finals of the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open on Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern.
The crashing of pins continues after Saturday's live televised finals as the Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown, a four-player made-for-TV event that will air on CBS Sports Network on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. Eastern, also will take place at Boardwalk Bowl.
The last two events at Boardwalk Bowl provided plenty of excitement for bowling fans, and the 2019 PWBA Orlando Open looks to bring much of the same with the race for the PWBA Tour Championship, along with the PWBA Player and Rookie of the Year races, tightening up.
Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas (2017 PWBA Orlando Open), and Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York (2018 U.S. Women's Open), won the titles in the tour's last two stops to Boardwalk Bowl, and both find themselves in the midst of a tight battle for some of the remaining spots for the season-ending Tour Championship in Richmond, Virginia, from Sept. 15-18.
Only seven players - Josie Barnes, Shannon O'Keefe, Jordan Richard, Dasha Kovalova, Shayna Ng, Sandra Andersson and Danielle McEwan - have secured spots in the 16-player field by winning an event this season, meaning the points list becomes even more crucial heading into Orlando.
Kuhlkin (10th with 52,550 points) and Johnson (12th with 50,607.5 points) are in the cut to start this week. The final spot heading into the PWBA Orlando Open currently belongs to Latvia's Diana Zavjalova, who's 14th in points with 46,847.5. Five additional players are within approximately 6,000 points of Zavjalova's number.
The PWBA Player and Rookie of the Year races each have players with comfortable leads heading into the week, but it certainly doesn't mean the award has been won just yet.
O'Keefe, the reigning PWBA Player of the Year, is looking to claim the coveted honor in back-to-back seasons and leads the tour with three wins and four championship-round appearances. She's pacing the way with 90,125 points this season and holds the advantage over McEwan (78,685) and Kovalova (74,370).
The Rookie of the Year race is led by Valerie Bercier of Spring Lake, Michigan. Bercier, also a member of Team Canada, has a top finish of fourth this season (PWBA Sonoma County Open) and currently has 43,937.5 points to her credit.
Her closest competitor for the honor is Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, who has accumulated 36,550 points after making her debut at the third stop of the season, the PWBA Lincoln Open. Bond's best finish of the season also came at the Lincoln Open, where she finished sixth.
While Bond's rookie campaign will require several strong finishes to catch Bercier, she's been the player to beat on the PWBA Regional circuit in 2019, collecting a pair of wins to earn the top seed for the Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown.
The event will include four of the top performers on the regional tour in 2019 and they will bowl for part of a $15,000 prize fund and $6,000 top prize.
The knockout-style championship round will feature Bond taking on Kayla Bandy of Salisbury, Maryland, while the other semifinal match will have Gazmine Mason of Cranston, Rhode Island, taking on Elise Bolton of Merritt Island, Florida.
The winners of the one-game semifinal matches will meet for the title, determined in a two-game total-pinfall contest.
Three of the players earned a spot in the Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown by winning one of four events held in conjunction with national tour stops. Players had to be PWBA Tour members at the time of their victory to advance.
Bond won back-to-back titles at the PWBA Lincoln Regional and PWBA Sonoma County Regional to earn the top seed, while Mason (PWBA East Hartford Regional) and Bolton (PWBA Greater Cleveland Regional) claimed the other titles.
Bandy earned the final spot, which was determined based on prize winnings in regional competition this season. Prize winnings also determined the seeding for the televised event.
Thursday's PTQ will kick off the three days of action at Boardwalk Bowl. Nearly 20 players from Florida, including three from Orlando - Katelyn Jones, Vanessa Rivera and Crystal Schoneman - will take part in the PTQ.
BowlTV.com, the exclusive online home of the PWBA Tour, will livestream each qualifying round leading up to Saturday's televised finals on CBS Sports Network.
In addition to the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open and Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown, an additional event will be held over the weekend in the area. The PWBA Orlando Regional will take place Sunday at nearby Aloma Bowl in Winter Park, Florida.
The single-day event will feature an eight-game qualifying round, starting at 9 a.m. Eastern, with the top four players advancing to the stepladder finals, which is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Eastern. Both rounds of the regional event will be featured on BowlTV.