Bill O’Neill Wins Season-Opening Major in Wichita
Despite a chaotic start to the season for Bill O’Neill, in which he missed the practice session due to weather-related travel issues, he earned his third career major title with a PBA Players Championship presented by Snickers victory.
O’Neill defeated collegiate star Ryan Barnes, the son of Hall of Famers Chris and Lynda, then top-seeded Tom Smallwood to win his third career major championship, 14th career PBA Tour title and $100,000.
“It still hasn't sunk in yet,” O’Neill said. “It's just an incredible feeling to win the biggest prize in the game. You can't duplicate it, you know? I'm so thankful that I could be in this position and do this again.”
After finishing third in the 2023 Players Championship near his hometown in eastern Pennsylvania, the second-seeded O’Neill found himself in a true road game against Ryan Barnes in the semifinals.
Barnes, a senior at collegiate powerhouse Wichita State, earned a commissioner’s exemption to compete in the pre-tournament qualifier, along with teammates from last season’s national championship-winning team Spencer Robarge, TJ Rock and Brandon Bonta. All four advanced to the main field and cashed; Barnes and Rock made it to match play.
Barnes rolled the front-eight strikes in his opening match against former U.S. Open champion, Chris Via. The 21-year-old won, 267-233.
In his second match, Barnes drew a familiar foe in Nate Stubler. The sophomore left-hander bowled collegiately at St. Ambrose University, one of Wichita State’s fiercest rivals over the past few seasons.
Stubler fired the first five strikes, but splits in the sixth and ninth frames allowed Barnes back into the match.
Stubler struck on his first shot in the 10th, benefiting from an electric messenger, but wrapped a 7-pin on the second. Just like in the 2021 and 2023 Intercollegiate Team Championships, the Shocker got the best of the Fighting Bee.
In the semifinals, transition hit Barnes like the frigid weather that froze the central United States. He missed a 10-pin to start the match, then split and couldn’t figure out how to carry the 10-pin.
By the time Barnes solved the puzzle, O’Neill had built an insurmountable lead. The devout crowd sent Barnes off with a standing ovation.
O’Neill’s semifinal win set up a rematch with Smallwood, who got the best of O'Neill in the position round on Saturday. Additionally, when Smallwood made his iconic debut in the 2009 PBA World Championship, he defeated O’Neill in his opening match.
Neither player was able to replicate the torrid scoring pace of qualifying and match play. A pocket 7-10 in the third frame left Smallwood little room for error, though O’Neill opened the door for him with a split in the seventh frame.
Smallwood, seeking a third career major title himself, failed to seize the opportunity. He missed a spare in the eighth and threw an errant shot in the ninth, handing the title to O’Neill.
“I haven't really won many matches on TV where I didn't have a good ball reaction,” O’Neill said. “I got kind of lucky there that Tom bowled the game he did. I didn't think in a million years he’d bowl a 170 game with his ball reaction.”
The 2024 season continues with the U.S. Open presented by GoBowling on Jan. 27 in Indianapolis.
Championship Round Scores
No. 4 Ryan Barnes def. No. 5 Chris Via, 267-223
No. 4 Ryan Barnes def. No. 3 Nate Stubler, 224-220
No. 2 Bill O’Neill def. No. 4 Ryan Barnes, 215-205
No. 2 Bill O’Neill def. No. 1 Tom Smallwood, 209-178
- Bill O’Neill, $100,000
- Tom Smallwood, $55,000
- Ryan Barnes, $35,000
- Nate Stubler, $30,000
- Chris Via, $25,000
More information on the PBA Players Championship presented by Snickers is available here.