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PBA experiments with World Championships

The three-month gap since the PBA World Championships field was cut to four has given the tour and ESPN plenty of time to hype the event.

The PBA opted to hold off on finishing the World Championships, the final event in the seven-tournament World Series of Bowling, so it could bring in extra viewers and make the finals, held today at Northrock Lanes, more important.

The World Championships, which began in Michigan in late August, will have its finals televised live this afternoon. After it's over, six more bowlers will finish the PBA Red, White and Blue Open, a tournament that has been played all week at Northrock. It will be televised on Jan. 10.

"The majority of the World Series of Bowling consisted of taped events," PBA deputy commissioner Tom Clark said. "The World Championships is the culminating event of the World Series of Bowling, and we wanted that final to be live. We knew that the World Series of Bowling would play out over seven weeks on ESPN. Another reason we want it live now is that we have a chance to bring in a higher number of viewers at this point in the season."

Last year's World Championships, held in October at Northrock, drew relatively low television numbers in part because it was the first tournament of the season.

The World Series is a new concept, as is finishing a tournament at a different venue than where it began. But the PBA is banking on the experiment being a success because the field includes young stars Rhino Page and Wes Malott, who will meet in one of today's semifinal matches.

The other semifinal features Bill O'Neill, a promising 28-year-old who won his first PBA title earlier this season, and Thomas Smallwood, who earned a PBA exemption only after being laid off from General Motors almost a year ago.

"We have three of the up-and-comers, the faces of the PBA, joined by this great story, Thomas Smallwood," Clark said. "I like it all the way around."

The Red, White, and Blue Open features six semifinalists, with top seeds Patrick Allen and Wayne Garber earning first-round byes. Michael Machuga meets Walter Ray Williams, Jr. in one match, and Michael Fagan opposes Mike Scroggins in the other.

The only problem Clark foresees is that fans may not become as involved in the World Championships since it began three months ago. But a strong field and hype from ESPN help combat that problem.

"There's a slight disconnect with fans who are used to watching one tournament during the week then watching the finals," Clark said. "For the fans here in Wichita, they're going to watch the finals of a tournament they didn't watch, because it was in Detroit. We've got to get over that, and you hope that the crowd has the same level of intensity over two whole shows."

The PBA felt Wichita was a strong host for the World Championships last year, so it opted to return for the event this year, though the World Series format didn't allow Wichita to be the primary host. The city will be spotlighted, however, as the PBA hosts perhaps its most high-profile tournament.

"It feels like this is our first show," Clark said. "We've been on and we've had good shows and the ratings have been just where we thought they'd be. But this feels like the first show, because it's live, and there's something great about being live."

Chris Barnes Challenge — Derek Hartnell, an All-American bowler from Newman, pulled off an upset of PBA star and former Wichita State bowler Chris Barnes, winning a three-game total pinfall match 719-698.

Barnes led by 76 pins after winning the first two games 248-232 and 289-229. But he left several splits in the third match and left the door open for Hartnell, who bowled a 258. Hartnell won $1,600 as the top bidder to face Barnes in a winner-take-all series.

"The first game, I was battling nerves," Hartnell said in a live interview after the match. "But the last game, who would have thought that would happen."