NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. - With three challenging oil patterns and 24 games completed at the 2019 U.S. Women's Open, six-time champion Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, tops the field as qualifying came to a close Thursday at Texas Star Lanes.
The United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer rolled the highest eight-game block among all competitors Thursday (1,761), including the first 300 game of the 2019 event, to finish qualifying with a 5,145 total, a 214.38 average.
The 45-year-old right-hander leads Shannon Sellens of Long Beach, New York, by 128 pins (5,017 total) as the second major championship of the 2019 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season makes its first cut.
Jordan Richard of Tecumseh, Michigan (4,999), Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (4,988), and Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (4,983), also finished qualifying in the top five, and defending U.S. Women's Open champion Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, continues her title defense with a 4,880 total, which puts her in 14th place.
All 108 players in this week's field rolled 24 games over three days to determine the top 36 players advancing to Friday's cashers' round, which starts at 1 p.m. Eastern.
The final spot in the cashers' round required an additional game to determine as England's Verity Crawley and Sydney Brummett of Fort Wayne, Indiana, tied for the final spot with a 4,749 total, a 197.88 average.
Crawley won a one-game roll-off to move onto the next round, 203-180. Crawley delivered five consecutive strikes starting in the second frame to build a lead as Brummett recorded two opens in her first seven frames.
Johnson has been steady from round to round this week on her way to the top of the leaderboard, gradually improving her overall position each day. She was in fifth place after Round 1 and third at the conclusion of Round 2.
On Thursday's 47-foot lane condition, Johnson focused on matching up her surfaces and finding her rhythm, but she ended up going back and forth between bowling balls during the second half of her block. She rolled games of 245, 213, 216, 205, 215, 175, 300 and 192, noting how crucial her spare shooting was throughout her eight games.
"Once I got into the warm-up session this morning, I had a couple of different balls in mind and wanted to make sure my surfaces were in order," said Johnson, a three-time PWBA Player of the Year. "Today, though, was all about my tempo and making good shots.
"The ball I used for the 300 game actually was the same one I used today for the first four games. I ended up making a ball change, and it wasn't quite the change I needed, so I ended up going back to it. With the way scores were today, shooting 300 was pretty awesome."
Johnson's wins at the U.S. Women's Open have spanned more than 20 years - 1996, 2007, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
She has seen the sport and tournament evolve over that span, but the U.S. Women's Open still serves as one of the biggest challenges for competitors each year, testing a player's ability to execute, maintain focus and exhibit durability over the course of 56 games.
New for 2019, the event has featured three different lane conditions for each of the three qualifying rounds, with a fourth oil pattern being introduced during Friday's cashers' round. The fourth pattern will be used for the duration of the event.
Johnson doesn't mind the new challenge and feels it plays into her favor.
"I like the marathons," Johnson said. "The U.S. Women's Open always is challenging and tough, but with no burn patterns this year, I feel it plays to my strengths - making shots and filling frames. Today, I was clean in 77 of 80 frames and made a lot of ugly spares. Hopefully I can continue that throughout the weekend."
The top 36 bowlers will bowl an additional eight games Friday to determine the 24 players advancing to round-robin match play.
Match play will begin Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern with the first of three eight-game rounds. Match play resumes Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern with the final two blocks, including a position round. The five finalists will be determined by total pinfall, including bonus pins, for 56 games.
The stepladder finals will take place Sunday and air live on CBS Sports Network at 5 p.m. Eastern, awarding the champion the $20,000 top prize and coveted green jacket.
Each round of the 2019 event leading up to the stepladder finals will be broadcast live at BowlTV.com.