Duke headlines champions field at Red Rock Lanes
(Courtesy of Professional Bowlers Association)
Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., has already accomplished a feat no other professional bowler has equaled, and he�s anxiously awaiting the opportunity to add to it when the H&R Block Tournament of Champions gets underway at Red Rock Lanes Wednesday on the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour.
Duke, the first Professional Bowlers Association competitor in 50 years to win three consecutive "major" titles, is the headliner in a field of 60 PBA champions who will do battle for the $50,000 first prize and a three-year Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour exemption. The tournament ends Sunday with the live ESPN stepladder finals telecast at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern, 9:30 a.m. Pacific).
Standing in Duke's way, however, is not just a star-studded field of PBA hall of famers, contemporary stars, and PBA Regional and Senior Tour stars. Included in that group is Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Ocala, Fla., who is not only the winningest player in PBA history with 45 titles, but a man who needs to win the Tournament of Champions to complete both the PBA Triple Crown and Grand Slam of "major" titles. He has already won the U.S. Open, PBA World Championship and United States Bowling Congress Masters. Adding the Tournament of Champions would make him the sixth Triple Crown winner in PBA history and he'd join Mike Aulby and Duke, no less, as the only Grand Slam winners.
"I'd love to win this week, and I'm going to do my best, but if I never win the Tournament of Champions, oh, well," the 48-year-old Williams said. "I'm pretty happy with my career. Not winning the Tournament of Champions won't define what I've accomplished. It's a very hard thing to do."
Duke couldn't agree more. At age 44, Duke has 30 titles. Only five players - including Williams - have won more. But the "majors" are a special challenge and Duke has become adept at winning them.
Duke won his first major - the USBC Masters - in 1993. A year later he won the Tournament of Champions. It then took six years to add the PBA National Championship and another six years - 16 years into his career - to finally win the U.S. Open.
Heading into the Tournament of Champions, however, Duke was on a streak few competitors in any sport have experienced. It began with the Denny�s PBA World Championship last March. Then he won the U.S. Open, and he kicked off the 2008-09 Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour campaign in October with another PBA World Championship title.
That gave Duke nearly three months to let the idea of winning four consecutive majors roll around in his head.
"I've been sleeping okay, but the anxiety is killing me," Duke said on the eve of his quest. "It's such a weird feeling. I'm nervous. I'm anxious. I'm fearful I don't have what it takes. There's some element of that in every tournament you bowl, but you manage it. This week, it's tough not to fast-forward to the point where you ask yourself, how did I do?
"I'm ready," he added quickly. "I'm happy with my form. I'm happy with the way I'm thinking. I've done this before. But tomorrow we start the tournament and until you start bowling, you never know what's going to happen.
"You win events where you start the tournament feeling you have no chance," Duke continued. "Then you lose events where you're at your most confident. There are so many differences between tournaments and conditions and formats that you can never say there's one thing you need to do to be successful. Once it begins, you do what you need to do. Everyone here will be trying to figure it out."
Everyone in the Tournament of Champions field has confronted pressure before, but Duke is in unprecedented territory going into this one.
"I've got a streak alive that no one has ever had and I don't want it to end," he said. "It's inevitable. It'll end sometime. But I'm going to try to prolong it as long as I can."
The Tournament of Champions field will bowl two eight-game qualifying rounds Wednesday and a third eight-game round Thursday morning before the field will be cut to the top 24 qualifiers. The top 24 will bowl three eight-match match play rounds Thursday evening, Friday afternoon and Friday evening. The top four after 48 games will advance to Sunday's stepladder finals which will air at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern, 9:30 a.m. Pacific) on ESPN.
01/21 09:37:40 ET