WATERLOO, Iowa – Colombia’s Maria José Rodriguez wants to win every tournament she enters, but she’s willing to concede that majors mean a bit more.
In that case, every Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour title Rodriguez has won to date must mean a lot to her because they’ve all been majors.
The 34-year-old right-hander’s latest triumph came Tuesday night when she defeated Dasha Kovalova of Muskegon, Michigan, 234-200, to win the 2023 PWBA Tour Championship at Cadillac Xtreme Bowling Center.
The stepladder finals were contested in front of a standing-room only crowd and broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.
The win gave Rodriguez her second Tour Championship crown – she won the 2018 event in Richmond, Virginia – and third major victory overall; her first came at the 2014 United States Bowling Congress Queens, which was held at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada.
It also allowed her to take home the trophy and $50,000 first-place check. Kovalova earned $25,000 for her runner-up finish.
Rodriguez can’t explain why things just seem to click for her at majors, but it’s not something she’s complaining about either.
“I think maybe I’m lucky that I’ve just won the majors,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know why that’s happened because, obviously, my goal is to win a regular event as well. You put more emphasis and preparation into the majors because they’re cool to win, but I can’t really explain why it’s worked out that way.”
One thing that was easy to explain was how Rodriguez reached the winner’s circle Tuesday night; she simply did what she’d done all tournament long, which was to pepper the pocket and record lots of strikes.
After her opening shot of the championship match went high and left the 3-6-10, which she converted, Rodriguez got down to business, striking on her next five shots to grab a 16-pin lead over Kovalova at the halfway point.
Kovalova, a five-time PWBA Tour titlist and past major champion herself, did her best to hang tough, but a 2-4-8-10 split in the sixth and a pocket 7-10 in the seventh proved to be too much to overcome.
Rodriguez stayed clean, and by the time she stepped up to bowl her 10th frame, the title was already hers.
Even though Rodriguez already felt herself to have had a solid season, she had to admit that winning the season’s final tournament, and major, was a nice way to close out the 2023 PWBA Tour campaign.
“Obviously, it was a good season because I won,” Rodriguez said. “You always want to do better. I mean, I would’ve loved to have had Jordan’s season – referring to 2023 PWBA Tour Player of the Year Jordan Richard – but I don’t want to sound like I don’t appreciate the season I had. I just have really high standards for myself.”
Rodriguez’s standards have always been high, but not too long ago, it was unclear whether or not it was even worth setting performance goals anymore because there was no guarantee she was going to be able to continue competing.
That’s because a host of foot and ankle injuries had Rodriguez struggling to walk without pain let alone being able to bowl at an elite level.
There were moments when she questioned whether or not she’d ever make it back to competition strength, which is a fact that made Tuesday night’s win even more special.
“I questioned every day whether or not I’d be able to do this again,” Rodriguez said. “It’s amazing that this has happened. A lot of people have come back from things like that, and a lot of people haven’t, so you don’t take anything for granted. It just feels awesome.”
Kovalova earned her spot in the title match by taking down 2022 U.S. Women’s Open champion Erin McCarthy of Elkhorn, Nebraska, 211-173 in the seminfinals.
That match was close until McCarthy was unable to convert a 1-2-4-6-10 washout in the seventh frame.
Nevertheless, despite failing to reach the winner’s circle, McCarthy authored some of the night’s most thrilling moments.
First, she defeated England’s Verity Crawley 10-6 in a roll-off after the two finished Match 1 tied at 268.
Next, she converted a 3-4-6-7 split in the 10th frame of Match 2 to top Richard by a final score of 228-217. Richard was vying for her first career major title and fourth win of the season.
However, McCarthy’s bid to run the stepladder was stopped one match later by Kovalova, which forced McCarthy to settle for a third-place finish and $15,000.
Richard earned $12,000 for placing fourth, while Crawley finished fifth and walked away with $9,000.
The Tour Championship was the final event of the season-ending PWBA Championship Week – Waterloo, which featured three events – PWBA Waterloo Open, PWBA Pepsi Open and Tour Championship – and kicked off Wednesday with 85 athletes.
In order to qualify for the Tour Championship, a player had to be a current PWBA member in good standing and have won a National Tour title during the 2023 season. The remainder of the field was filled from the PWBA season points list through the most recent tournament preceding the Tour Championship, which was the Pepsi Open.
The Tour Championship consisted of three eight-game rounds of match play Sunday and Monday. Total pinfall for 24 games, including bonus pins for each victory in match play, determined the five finalists for Tuesday’s championship round.
Latvia’s Diana Zavjalova won the Waterloo Open on Thursday for her first title of the 2023 season and fifth career title. Caitlyn Johnson of Beaumont, Texas, won the Pepsi Open Saturday night to claim her first PWBA Tour tournament victory.
The 2023 PWBA Tour schedule featured 12 events during the season and began in May at the PWBA Stockton Open at Pacific Avenue Bowl in Stockton, California.
Richard was the only player to win multiple titles during the season, reaching the winner’s circle three times – PWBA GoBowling! Spokane Open; PWBA Great Lakes Classic; PWBA Bowlers Journal Cleveland Open – while Lindsay Boomershine of Brigham City, Utah, collected her first major at the USBC Queens.
Hope Gramly of Aubrey, Texas, won PWBA Rookie of the Year for the 2023 season. She secured the postseason honor after accumulating enough points to qualify for the Tour Championship.
Richard took home Player of the Year after leading the 2023 PWBA Tour in wins (3), championship-round appearances (6), average (219.69) and PWBA Tour points (110,162.50). This marks Richard’s first time earning the award; however, she was the 2018 PWBA Rookie of the Year.