PETALING JAYA: Rafiq Ismail (pic) stayed on course for a historic US Professional Bowlers’ Association (PBA) Tour win by reaching the third round of the Thailand Open in Bangkok.
In his first competitive action since capturing the men’s Masters gold medal at the Asian Games in Indonesia last month, the 21-year-old posted a six-game total of 1,317 to finish strongly in the fourth spot in the World Bowling Tour (WBT) leg at the Blu-O Rhythm and Bowl yesterday.
American Chris Barnes, a 19-time PBA Tour champion, topped the 18-bowler contest with 1,346 pinfalls, while Finland veteran Osku Palermaa (1,334) and Australian star Sam Cooley (1,330) came in second and third respectively.
Only the top 10 finishers advance into the third round where they will be joined by 16 other finalists (who finished ninth to 24th in the five-day qualifying that ended on Wednesday) including compatriots Esther Cheah and Natasha Roslan.
The 26 players will bowl another six games with the top 12 progressing to the fourth round, joined by eight more qualifiers including pole-sitter Sin Li Jane.
Only the last seven bowlers will battle it out for the 1mil baht (RM128,000) top prize through a one-game stepladder playoff.
As the WBT Thailand is jointly sanctioned by the PBA Tour, a victory would see Rafiq be the first-ever Malaysian to be crowned a PBA Tour winner.
“There is an extra motivation for me, but I’m taking it one stage at a time. I’ve three more stages to negotiate and many top pros to beat, I’ve to continue to be at my best,” said Rafiq, who’s slated for his first US Open appearance next month.
Malaysia, who have never finished even in the top eight since the tournament’s inception in 2011, will be also banking on the in-form Li Jane.
Li Jane fired a superb 2,268 total over nine games, averaging 252 per game, to finish first out of the 134 bowlers at the end of the qualifying campaign on Wednesday.
She even finished ahead of the likes of notable PBA Tour stars Anthony Simonsen (US), Francois Lavoie (Can), Jesper Svensson (Swe) and Sean Rash (US).
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