Bill O’Neill holds a narrow lead entering the final eight games of match play at the PBA Players Championship presented by Snickers.

O’Neill went 10-6 during two eight-game rounds of match play on Friday at Bowlero Northrock in Wichita, Kan. He raised his total pinfall to 9,872 (+1,872) on the high-scoring, 38-foot Wayne Webb oil pattern to lead the remaining field of 24 players.

Tom Smallwood (+1,857), Anthony Lavery-Spahr (+1,826), Cristian Azcona (+1,740) and Chris Via (+1,654) round out the top five.


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Via charged up the leaderboard on Friday, rising from 20th place to fifth after averaging 239.25 for the day’s 16 games. 

Via made five of nine major championship rounds across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, including the 2021 U.S. Open title. He said the biggest lesson he’s learned is that ‘it’s never over ‘til it’s over’ when it comes to making major telecasts.

“You can shoot 210 and go down four spots and you can shoot 260 and win to go up four spots,” Via said. “If I bowl to my abilities and my capabilities, then I'm going to put together some good games. If I win matches, fantastic; if I don't, then more power to my opponents. I can really only control how I perform and I feel like if I perform well tomorrow then I should have a good chance to make it.”

With fewer players and less transition, many players, including O’Neill and Via, have utilized urethane equipment in match play. 

O’Neill said Hammer’s new Black Pearl Urethane hooks less and rolls straighter than their previous urethane ball. The 2020 PBA Players Championship winner said the new urethane matches up well with the pattern and lane surface this week.

With the help of close friend Darren Tang, Via said he figured out a trick with Storm’s new !Q Tour 78-U that helped him immensely in the evening round.

“Darren said to get the ball over the front a little more, rather than trying to chase it left,” Via said. “It felt like my ball was kind of burning up and kind of really getting lazy downlane. The further left you move, you’ve got to throw it even slower and that’s really hard to repeat.”

O’Neill switched to 14-pound equipment to start the 2023 season, a move he now describes as a poor decision. After returning to 15 pounds, O’Neill turned a corner.

He finished third in the PBA Players Championship last season, falling to Jakob Butturff in the Race-to-Two semifinals despite games of 239 and 256. However, O’Neill isn’t drawing any added motivation from that disappointing finish, which took place in New Jersey less than 45 minutes from his hometown.

“I want to win every event just the same,” O’Neill said. “I want to win the majors. I want to win the small tournaments. Every time I show up, I want to win. There's no extra motivation for me. I don't want to do that to myself because I don't want to get myself too pumped up for any particular event.”


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The highlight of the day came during the first round when Chris Barnes squared off with his son, Ryan, in Game 6. Ryan bested his Hall of Fame dad, 195-193, after Chris failed to double in the 10th frame.

The Barnes’ history in Wichita dates back more than 30 years to Chris’ illustrious Wichita State career. Despite the loss, Chris never lost sight of the moment. 

"This was absolutely perfect," Chris said.

Ryan, a current senior at Wichita State, said he felt a mix of emotions as he is firmly in the mix to make the championship round.

“Obviously I was super excited to bowl and was trying to beat him, while also trying to enjoy the moment of bowling dad at a major,” Ryan said.

The 30 bonus pins Ryan collected for his two-pin win could pay dividends in the final round match play on Saturday. Ryan trails Via for the fifth and berth on the show by 82 pins.

The concluding eight games of match play will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern and will be livestreamed on BowlTV.

Tickets for Monday’s televised finals, which includes entry to the PBA Jr. National Championship finals, are available here.

Leaders after Match Play Round 2

  1. Bill O’Neill, 9,872 (+1,872)
  2. Tom Smallwood, 9,857 (+1,857)
  3. Anthony Lavery-Spahr, 9,826 (+1,826)
  4. Cristian Azcona, 9,740 (+1,740)
  5. Chris Via, 9,654 (+1,654)
  6. BJ Moore, 9,640 (+1,640)
  7. Graham Fach, 9,612 (+1,612)
  8. Tim Gruendler, 9,609 (+1,609)
  9. Ryan Barnes, 9,572 (+1,572)
  10. Packy Hanrahan, 9,569 (+1,569)

Full standings are available here.

PBA Players Championship Schedule

All times Eastern

Bowlero Northrock | Wichita, Kan.

Saturday, Jan. 13
11 a.m. — Match Play Round 3 (eight games)
Cut to top five for stepladder finals

Monday, Jan. 15
5 p.m. — Stepladder finals