RENO, Nev. – Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio, has been on an amazing run in major events, and he’s now one win away from making the U.S. Open the first title of his Professional Bowlers Association Tour career.
The 29-year-old two-hander completed a memorable climb up the U.S. Open standings Saturday night at the National Bowling Stadium with a 266-237 position-round win over left-hander Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, to lock up the No. 1 seed for Sunday’s championship round.
The show will air live on FOX Sports’ FS1 at 2 p.m. Eastern as part of the 2021 PBA Tour television schedule. The event is considered a major on the PBA Tour, and the winner will take home the coveted green jacket and a $ 30,000 top prize.
Via trailed the seven-time PBA Tour champion by 48 pins going into the final game, so the difference ended up being the bonus pins up for grabs in each game of match play.
Via posted a 16-8 record in match play and averaged more than 228 across 56 games and four lane conditions to finish the five-day marathon with a 13,280 total. He is continuing a streak that includes six TV appearances in his last seven majors, a run that kicked off with a fifth-place performance at the 2020 U.S. Open.
“It has been a really good run, and I’m just trying to continue riding the wave,” Via said. “A lot of it stems from confidence and from overcoming the mental challenges when things may not be going so well. I’ve done a lot of work with the ball reps on different things, like watching motivational videos or talking through our experiences. It has helped a lot.”
Butturff, the No. 2 seed for Sunday’s show, will make his third U.S. Open stepladder appearance in five years. He finished his 56 games this week with a 13,269 total. He was the runner-up in 2017 and 2018 as the top seed.
Via and Butturff will be joined in the finals by No. 3 Anthony Neuer of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (13,190), No. 4 Jason Sterner of Rochester, New York (13,131), and No. 5 Cristian Azcona of Puerto Rico (13,117).
For the second consecutive week, Australia’s Sam Cooley just missed the TV show, finishing sixth, while his countrymate, defending champion Jason Belmonte, finished 12th and missed becoming the first bowler to successfully defend a U.S. Open title since Dave Husted accomplished the feat in 1996.
Sunday’s FS1 broadcast will be the second in as many weeks for Via and Sterner, who finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in last week’s United States Bowling Congress Masters, which also was held at the National Bowling Stadium.
Following his top-five effort at last year’s U.S. Open, Via went on to finish fifth at the 2020 PBA World Championship, rolled a televised 300 game during the East Region Finals of the 2021 PBA Players Championship and finished fourth at the 2021 PBA World Championship.
Butturff’s journey to the stepladder this week was much different than his previous U.S. Open experiences, and he’ll now focus on making the outcome different, too.
In both 2017 and 2018, he ran away from the field during match play and led by more than 550 pins each time. He was not the leader heading into the Cashers’ Round or match play.
This time around, the 26-year-old left-hander led after all three rounds of qualifying and heading into the first of the three match-play rounds, but he never was able to pull away.
He’ll have history on his side though, as the No. 2 seed has gone on to win the U.S. Open four times since the event returned in 2015 after a brief hiatus.
“It just feels really good to have another opportunity to go out there and be successful in this tournament,” Butturff said. “I feel confident after bowling 32 games on this pattern, and in looking at the recent history, I think the second seed has done pretty well.”
The opening match on Sunday’s show will be between Sterner and Azcona.
Should Sterner climb the ladder to win his first major, and fourth PBA Tour title overall, he will have bowled nearly the maximum number of games possible between the Masters and U.S. Open.
After 15 games of qualifying at the Masters, he lost his first three-game match and was sent to the Elimination Bracket. So far, he has bowled 99 games at the NBS, and there’s a possibility of four more.
Azcona is the only bowler from Puerto Rico with a PBA Tour title, and he’s looking to bring the island its first major victory.
Neuer is an 18-year-old left-hander and a member of Junior Team USA. A win would make him the youngest bowler to win a PBA major, but he’d be just a few days shy of becoming the youngest PBA Tour winner overall.
Anthony Simonsen was 19 years and 39 days old when he won the Masters in 2016, and hall of famer Norm Duke was 18 years, 345 days old in 1983 when he notched the first win of his career. Neuer, whose father, Andy, is a PBA Tour champion, will turn 19 on April 26.
The U.S. Open is the fifth and final major of the 2021 PBA Tour season, and all five major winners will meet in the PBA Super Slam, which will air live on FOX on April 18.
The 2021 U.S. Open started with 108 competitors, all of whom bowled 24 games of qualifying across three oil patterns, before total pinfall determined the 36 bowlers who advanced to Friday morning’s Cashers’ Round on a fourth lane condition.
The final pattern, a 42-foot condition, was used throughout match play and will be featured again on the TV show Sunday.
The majority of the competitors this week earned direct entry into the event based on their on-lane performances throughout 2020, while 43 bowlers advanced to the 108-player field through Sunday’s eight-game pre-tournament qualifier.
Each round of qualifying and match play at the 2021 U.S. Open was broadcast live at BowlTV.com and simulcast on FloBowling.