Huntington native E.J. Tackett, one of the Professional Bowlers Association’s rising young stars, defeated veteran Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Michigan, 246-180, to win the PBA World Championship Sunday at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada.
Tackett, the PBA’s 2013 Rookie of the Year, won his first major championship and his fourth title of the 2016 season with a closing string of six strikes after Smallwood lost his strike line on the left lane and suffered two open frames late in the match. Tackett, the top qualifier for the World Championship for a second straight year, earned $60,000 along with his fifth career title.
"It was the greatest feeling in the world to have my dad here to watch," Tackett said in a news release. "It was great to bowl a good game to win. Tom gave me some breaks, which you’d never expect from him, but to throw the last six strikes, to be able to perform like that on a stage like this is what you dream about. It’s been a huge breakout year for me. I just hope I can keep riding the wave. I don’t expect to win every time, but I just want to bowl well."
With his win, the 5-foot-7, 130-pound right-hander put himself into the PBA Player of the Year race.
"Player of the Year is one of those things you strive for," the 24-year-old Tackett said. "Now it’s a matter of what my peers think. With the kind of year I’ve had, I’d put myself in the top five in the world. Where, I’m not sure, but I grew up watching Tiger Woods, and I want to be the Tiger Woods of bowling."
Smallwood got his spot in the championship with three consecutive wins, including a 266-235 victory over England’s Dom Barrett in the semifinal match. Smallwood started the match against Barrett with eight strikes before leaving the 3-6-10 in the ninth frame.
Smallwood’s legacy began during the recession of 2009 when he lost his job with GMC and decided to pursue his dream of bowling professionally. He earned an exemption to bowl on the PBA Tour during the 2009-10 season, but more importantly, won the 2010 PBA World Championship for his first title and a $50,000 prize. He eliminated 19-year-old Anthony Simonsen in the first match, 204-193. Simonsen, from Austin, Texas, was trying to become the youngest player to win two major titles in the same season after winning the United States Bowling Congress Masters in February.
In the second match, Smallwood rebounded from an open second frame with a string of five strikes, building a lead Australia’s Jason Belmonte couldn’t overcome. Belmonte, the three-time reigning PBA Player of the Year, saw his hopes for his first title in 2016 vanish when he left the 3-4-6-7 split in the ninth frame and failed to convert, losing to Smallwood, 224-185.
The PBA World Championship was the final event of the 2016 PBA Tour season. PBA competition resumes Jan. 10-14 when a field of 16 PBA players join 16 Japanese players in the DHC PBA Japan Invitational in Osaka.