O’Neill, Tackett, Russo, Johnson and Simonsen advance to Sunday’s championship round

Bill O’Neill’s blistering 2024 campaign continued on Friday evening at Enterprise Park Lanes in Springfield, Mo. After 36 games on the 45-foot Dragon pattern, the 42-year-old earned the top seed at the PBA Pete Weber Missouri Classic.

EJ Tackett, Matt Russo, AJ Johnson and Anthony Simonsen will join O’Neill in the championship round, airing Sunday, Feb. 18 at noon CT (1 p.m. ET) on FS1.

O’Neill held a 25-pin lead entering the final six-game elimination round, but extended his lead to nearly 150 pins by the night’s end. With two fewer players bowling on each pair compared to previous rounds, O’Neill said he and his ball rep Mike Wolfe changed up their gameplan.

“I wanted to play a little bit further right because with only two players on the pair, I knew the lanes weren't going to break down the same,” O’Neill said. “I made a really good ball change for the 268 in Game 4 and separated myself. At that point, I was able to cruise (into the show.)”

O’Neill, who won the season-opening PBA Players Championship and leads the tour in points, said he has not taken any time to reflect on how well this season has been going.

“I don’t take any tournament for granted,” O’Neill said. “Even if I happen to win this tournament on Sunday, I'm gonna go into (Indiana) on Monday and practice to try to win that one, too. I watched all the greats over the years and they never took a week off mentally. They tried to win every tournament and I'm just trying to do the same.”


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Tackett, the reigning PBA Player of the Year, advanced to his third consecutive championship round. Tackett will be the No. 2 seed after bowling in the opening match in his previous two championship round appearances this season.

The 31-year-old led the initial 18 games of qualifying and sat in third through 24 games, but slipped to eighth during Friday’s second elimination round. Determined to climb back into the top five, he came out firing with games of 229, 278 and 269 on Friday night.

Tackett became the second-youngest player to eclipse 20 career PBA Tour titles last April. He was 14 days older than the current record holder: Pete Weber.

“It's an honor and a privilege to make the show of a tournament with Pete Weber’s name on it,” Tackett said. “I think that gave me a little bit of motivation tonight, just to be able to say that I was on the show when Pete bowled his last event. It would be really cool to hoist the trophy with his name on it, but I think all five guys that are on this show feel exactly the same way.”

Russo, the No. 3 seed, echoed Tackett’s sentiment.

“This one might top a major,” Russo said. “I’ve gotten to know Pete since I moved to the St. Louis area. Pete’s a really good guy off the lanes. He spoke to me after I made the show and it means a lot to have his support.”

Russo also credited his wife, Lauren, and her support for his strong performances over the past few weeks. Lauren, the head women’s bowling coach at Maryville University, won’t be in the crowd on Sunday. She will be coaching the team at a tournament in Jonesboro — the same venue where Russo won his lone career title at the 2021 PBA Jonesboro Open.

Following the season-opening tournament, where Russo finished in 42nd place, the two-hander decided to drill all-new equipment so he could bowl without his thumb in the ball. Since the change, Russo finished 17th in the U.S. Open and will finish at least fourth this week.

The lone left-hander on Sunday’s show said a few weeks ago that he is the game’s best lefty at hooking the ball.

“This one feels really good. It's nice to be able to believe something like that and go out there and show it,” Russo said. “I trust myself so much with a reactive ball, which allows me to do my thing. This week was all about staying closer to the friction, using cleaner bowling balls and trusting what I'm seeing. I did what most of the lefties probably didn't do. I know a lot of guys threw urethane early and tried to shape it, but then you just lose the transition. It actually was to my advantage.”

After finishing as the runner-up in last week’s PBA Illinois Classic, the fourth-seeded Johnson advances to his second straight championship round. Johnson slipped behind Russo after shooting a 155 in his final game.

“I'm not happy with how that (round) finished,” Johnson said. “With where I’m at, I don't feel like I should have let any of those guys around me. It is what it is, but at the end of the day, it gives me a little extra fire going into Sunday.”

The positive news for Johnson having to bowl an extra match is that he said he has felt very confident on fresh lane conditions since the tournament's second block.

“I feel that my look on the fresh has gotten better as the tournament has gone on,” Johnson said. “It’d be nice to see a similar shape on the show, but the show is always a little bit different. 

Simonsen entered the final game trailing Jakob Butturff and Tom Daugherty by 39 and 32 pins, respectively. Simonsen, who said he hadn’t had good ball reaction late in blocks all week, fired the front-nine and 277 to surge past both players and seize the final spot in the championship round.

“I'd obviously rather be way in the show, but it is fun chasing people down. I’m somebody who likes throwing it when they need it,” Simonsen said. “I've had a really good ball reaction on the fresh and pretty bad ball reaction throughout the rest of the day. I’ve bowled five blocks (before tonight) and what I've been trying hasn't worked. I wasn't going to be able to bowl anything good with what I had before, so I took a Hail Mary with a ball and fortunately it worked out for me.”

After clinching the fifth seed with a spare in the 10th frame, Simonsen exclaimed “too much time on the clock.”

The clock resets Sunday at noon CT (1 p.m. ET) on FS1.

Standings after Elimination Round 3

  1. Bill O’Neill, 8,363 (+1,163)
  2. EJ Tackett, 8,225 (+1,025)
  3. Matt Russo, 8,197 (+997)
  4. AJ Johnson, 8,183 (+983)
  5. Anthony Simonsen, 8,129 (+929) 
  6. Jakob Butturff, 8,116 (+916)
  7. Tom Daugherty, 8,085 (+885)
  8. Kim Bolleby, 8,064 (+864)
  9. Jason Sterner, 8,033 (+833)
  10. Zach Wilkins, 8,014 (+814)
  11. Cristian Azcona, 7,969 (+769)
  12. Jesper Svensson, 7,939 (+739)

Full standings are available here.

PBA Pete Weber Missouri Classic Schedule

Enterprise Park Lanes | Springfield, MO

All times Central

Sunday, Feb. 18
12 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) — PBA Pete Weber Missouri Classic stepladder finals