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Laid-off GM worker wins PBA Worlds

The end of the year is a time for reflection, so it was probably the right time for Tom Smallwood to enjoy the biggest moment of his professional life.

Smallwood did similar reflecting at the end of 2008, when he was laid off from a General Motors plant in Michigan and didn't know what his next move would be. With few other options Smallwood, a successful amateur and regional bowler, opted to try to make the PBA tour.

He earned an exemption for this season, and in his 14th professional event, Smallwood won the PBA World Championships with a 244-228 victory over reigning PBA player of the year Wes Malott in the finals. The win netted Smallwood $50,000 and a two-year tour exemption.

The World Championships, one of bowling's majors, began in August in suburban Detroit, but the semifinals and finals were moved to Wichita so they could air live on ESPN. The PBA Red, White and Blue Open, played all week at Northrock, also concluded Sunday, with Mike Scroggins taking the title.

With a month until the next tournament, Smallwood can take stock of a surreal last 365 days.

"I thought I could compete on tour," said Smallwood, a 32-year-old resident of Saginaw, Mich. "A year ago I had nothing— I wasn't exempt, I couldn't bowl on tour. I felt like I could compete if I got the exemption, but an exemption is so hard to get."

Smallwood earned the exemption through the PBA tour trials and almost immediately showed he belonged. He has four top 25 finishes this season, including a third-place finish at the Scorpion Championship in August, his first television appearance.

Sunday, he bested Bill O'Neill 211-159 in the semifinals before taking down Malott, who appears on his way to becoming the tour's next big star.

"It's a great storyline for him," Malott said of Smallwood. "All of us out here have known Tom for many years and he's proven himself in amateur events and stuff like that. So it's not like he's a complete rookie and doesn't have any experience at all. The guy's got plenty of credentials to fall back on."

Smallwood left an open frame on his first of the day against O'Neill, but quickly rallied when O'Neill fell apart, bowling three strikes and leaving three open frames.

Malott had control of the championship match, but a spare in the first half of the 10th frame gave Smallwood a chance, and he struck in his first two tenth-frame rolls to win the title.

Unemployed a year ago, Smallwood breathed a sigh of relief when it was mentioned that unemployment isn't in his future thanks to the exemption.

"It'll be a little easier at home," said Smallwood, who is married and has a two-year-old daughter. "I won't have to worry about that. I said I feel like I could compete, but one little injury and you never know what's going to happen. It's nice to have a two-year."

Red, White and Blue Open _ The weeklong inaugural tournament almost ended fittingly, as Mike Scroggins just missed a perfect game in defeating Wayne Garber 278-229 in the championship.

Scroggins rolled a strike in each of the first nine frames but missed a pin in his first roll of the 10th. He had two 300 games during the tournament as players set a PBA record with 31, breaking the 14-year old tournament record of 24.

Scroggins, as the No. 4 seed, had to win three matches to earn the $25,000 prize and one-year PBA exemption. He defeated Mike Fagan and No. 1 seed Patrick Allen before beating Garber, who reached the finals after defeating Walter Ray Williams, Jr. in a rolloff.

"You get that first (win) out of the way, you can kind of relax a little bit," Scroggins said. "You can really concentrate on what you're doing instead of everything else going on around you."

PBA World Championships

Semifinals — Wes Malott def. Rhino Page 203-191; Tom Smallwood def. Bill O'Neill 211-159. Championship — Smallwood def. Malott 244-228.

PBA Red, White and Blue Open

Round of six — Walter Ray Williams, Jr. def. Michael Machuga 257-244; Mike Scroggins def. Mike Fagan 218-183. Semifinals — Scroggins def. Patrick Allen 227-215; Wayne Garber def. Williams 9-7 in rolloff after 237-237 tie. Championship — Scroggins def. Garber 278-229.