Kris Prather Takes All Four Stepladder Matches to Win 55th PBA Tournament of Champions for First Major Title
by Jerry Schneider | Sunday, February 09, 6:33 PM
FAIRLAWN, Ohio – Coming off a 2019 season in which he captured his first two Go Bowling PBA Tour wins including the inaugural PBA Playoffs, Kris Prather of Plainfield, Illinois, won all four stepladder matches to win the 55th PBA Tournament of Champions Sunday at AMF Riviera Lanes for his first major title.
Prather, the No. 4 seed for the finals beat top seed Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, 280-205, in the title match to also win his third career tour title. O’Neill, an 11-time tour winner making his first Tournament of Champions telecast, was trying for his second major title.
“To just be able to compete in this tournament is incredible,” said the 28-year-old Prather. “To win it by beating four of the best players on the planet is just unbelievable.”
The Tournament of Champions, televised live on FOX, offered a $1 million bonus if the winner bowled a 300 game in the title match. Prather struck in the first frame of the title match, left a solid 10 pin in the second frame, converted the spare, and then struck on the next 10 shots for his 280 game.
“Leaving that 10 pin in the second frame actually took some of the pressure off and I was able to just stay loose and focus solely on winning the match,” Prather said. “If bowling for the $1 million would have come down to the last frame or even the last few frames, I don’t know that I would have even been able to get to the line.”
Prather began his run through the finals by beating No. 5 seed, 15-time tour winner Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, 187-164, in an opening match where both players struggled after getting off to a strong start.
Rash, who won the recent PBA Oklahoma Open, was trying for his second Tournament of Champions title and third major, had splits in the next two frames which enabled Prather to take command in the match.
“It took some time for the lanes to develop to the point where I could get a handle on the lane condition transition,” Prather said. “Once that match was over, everything seemed to get easier for me and I could concentrate better on repeating good shots.”
In the second match Prather beat defending champion Australian two-hander Jason Belmonte 252-179 to advance to the semifinal. Belmonte, who struggled from the start of the match, was trying for a record fourth Tournament of Champions title.
Belmonte, who leads the all-time majors titles list with 11 wins, qualified for the 24th and final position for match play Friday by one pin before climbing the standings through three rounds to earn the No. 3 seed. He took a similar path to the finals in 2018 making match play by just seven pins eventually earning the No. 3 seed before losing the second stepladder match to eventual winner Matt O’Grady to finish fourth.
In the semifinal match, Prather beat seven-time tour winner Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas, 226-203, to advance to the title match. The 23-year-old Simonsen was trying to become the youngest player to win three PBA majors. The two-hander won the 2019 PBA Players Championship to become the youngest player to win two major titles and won the 2016 USBC Masters at 19 to become the youngest to win a tour major.
The Tournament of Champions is the first of three consecutive majors this season on the Go Bowling PBA Tour. The tour travels to Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl for the PBA Players Championship which begins with first round qualifying Tuesday. The stepladder finals will air live on FS1 Saturday, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m. ET.
The $1 million championship match bonus will be in effect once again if the winning player bowls a 300 game in the title match. After the Players Championship, the tour heads to Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska for the U.S. Open Feb. 16-23.
PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
(a 2020 Go Bowling PBA Tour Tier 1 event)
AMF Riviera Lanes, Fairlawn, Ohio, Sunday
1, Kris Prather, Plainfield, Ill., $100,000.
2, Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa., $50,000.
3, Anthony Simonsen, Little Elm, Texas, $25,000.
4, Jason Belmonte, Australia, $12,000.
5, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., $10,000.
Match One: Prather def. Rash, 187-164.
Match Two: Prather def. Belmonte, 252-179.
Semifinal: Prather def. Simonsen, 226-203.
Championship: Prather def. O’Neill, 280-205.