MATCH PLAY: Rd. 3
DALLAS - Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, celebrated her 40th birthday with family, friends and strikes Monday after averaging more than 257 for eight games to secure the top seed for the stepladder finals at the 2022 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour Championship.
Pluhowsky, the defending champion at the season-ending major, rolled games of 190, 228, 267, 256, 300, 244, 297 and 276 to go 6-2 during her final match-play round at USA Bowl to finish with an overall record of 15-9 for a 6,036 total.
The 300 game was the first of her PWBA Tour career, and she went from starting Monday in fifth place and out of first by 100 pins to leading by 224 pins.
She will be joined in the stepladder by 2018 Tour Championship winner Maria José Rodriguez of Colombia (5,812), Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California (5,767), two-time Tour Championship titlist Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (5,679), and Jordan Richard of Maumee, Ohio (5,666).
All qualifiers for the Tour Championship bowled three eight-game rounds of match play Sunday and Monday at USA Bowl. Total pinfall for 24 games, including bonus pins for each victory in match play, determined the five finalists.
The stepladder finals will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern and broadcast live on CBS Sports Network. The winner will take home the $50,000 top prize and third major of the 2022 season.
Pluhowsky, a left-hander, has been fighting an injury to her left ring finger this year. It's something that had affected her ability to consistently repeat shots during the first portion of the season, but she worked through a change to her span and started feeling more comfortable on the lanes leading up to her time this week at USA Bowl.
With the 40-foot oil pattern being used at the Tour Championship, the two-time major winner elected to start with a safer choice in urethane to keep control of the pocket. As the scoring pace started to jump across the house, it was important for Pluhowsky to be more aggressive and make a change to reactive equipment.
Pluhowsky finished Sunday's opening round with games of 258 and 246, and she followed a similar plan in the second block to close the day with 247, 269 and 257.
She got into that ball in the fourth game Monday and averaged nearly 275 after the switch.
"It's been the best birthday so far," Pluhowsky said. "It was my first 300 on tour. I've had a rough year, so it's nice to end on a high note and make a show.
"The first couple games, I was throwing urethane and it was good, but it wasn't going through the pins very well. During the first round of match play, I think I just waited to throw urethane longer because I knew I'd keep it close to the headpin and get nine. Once scores started getting a little higher, I knew I was going to have to strike at some point. I switched to the (Black Widow) Ghost at the end and bowled a couple big games. In the next round, I kind of did the same thing but went to that ball a little earlier. When they hook a little more, that ball is good at allowing me to do what I like to do. I like to throw it hard, and it allowed me to miss both ways. I was able to get comfortable, camp out and do what I want to do."
At last year's Tour Championship in Reno, Nevada, Pluhowsky was able to win two matches on CBS Sports Network and defeated Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, in the title match, 244-178.
It was her first win on tour since the relaunch in 2015, and her victory prior to that took place at the 2006 United States Bowling Congress Queens.
She didn't put too much pressure on herself to defend the title at the Tour Championship, and although it's a new experience, she's excited to share it with her family.
"I never really had the opportunity to defend a title out here, so I'm not really going to think about it too much," Pluhowsky said. "I'm going to just try to make 10 great shots. It's nice to have my family here - both kids, my wife and my mom. It's been fun, because they don't get to come anymore."
Rodriguez led after two rounds of match play and is looking for her third major title. In addition to her victory at the 2018 Tour Championship in Richmond, Virginia, she also won the 2014 USBC Queens.
Zavala, the 2021 PWBA Rookie of the Year, is making her second consecutive appearance in the stepladder at the Tour Championship. She finished fourth at last year's event. Zavala is searching for her fourth PWBA Tour title and first major.
O'Keefe won the 2017 and 2019 Tour Championship in Richmond, and she's the owner of 15 PWBA Tour titles and three majors.
O'Keefe also solidified her spot at the top of the season-long points list Monday to claim her third PWBA Player of the Year honor. She won the postseason award in 2018 and 2019.
Olivia Farwell of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, also was recognized for a postseason award during the Tour Championship and is the 2022 PWBA Rookie of the Year. Farwell locked up the honor after finishing in fifth place at the PWBA Pepsi Classic on Saturday.
Richard is the 2018 PWBA Rookie of the Year and looking for her third career title and first major. She's making her first championship-round appearance at the Tour Championship.
The Tour Championship was the third event of the Dallas Classic Series. Coté won the PWBA Dallas Classic on Thursday for her fourth PWBA Tour title, and Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova claimed her fifth career title Saturday at the Pepsi Classic.
The combined qualifying totals for the Dallas Classic and Pepsi Classic (24 games) determined the 24 athletes at the Tour Championship. Pinfall was dropped for all advancers at the beginning of the Tour Championship.