George Branham III couldn't topple the King of the Hill yesterday at Fair Lanes Woodlawn, but he became the King of Baltimore.
Branham, who led the tournament virtually all week, cooled off Brian Voss in the final match and captured the $135,000 Baltimore Open for his first Professional Bowlers Association victory in six years.
He never trailed in his match with Voss while earning $24,000 and a spot in next month's $300,000 Firestone Tournament of Champions, the climactic event of the PBA tour.
But Branham couldn't sustain the momentum in the King of the Hill match that followed, losing to Walter Ray Williams, 230-147, while rolling four open frames in the first nine.
Williams retained the crown for the second straight week and pocketed $5,000.
"It was kind of hard to concentrate after winning the tournament, especially since it had been six years since I won," said Branham. "Maybe bowling King of the Hill first would be better."
Voss was on fire, rolling 19 strikes in a 235-214 victory over Bob Spaulding and a 266-217 victory over Dennis Jacques. Included was a run of seven consecutive strikes against Jacques, a New Jersey resident who hoped to return home to the $170,000 Johnny Petraglia Open this week with the King of the Hill title in hand.
But Voss' streak was detoured when he pulled up on his approach in the third frame of the final match, his attention disrupted.
"It was a ball return about 10 lanes over [where Williams was practicing]," said Voss, 1988 PBA Player of the Year. "I just stopped. Nobody can say that's what caused my problems. I might have had a split anyway."
He was faced with a difficult 3-6-9-10 conversion after the first ball, then left the 10 pin while falling 12 pins behind Branham. Voss never recovered.
Still, bowling last, Voss entered the 10th frame with a chance to tie and force a two-frame roll-off with three successive strikes. It wasn't to be as he left four pins with his first ball.
"I moved half a board left and made a pretty good shot," he said. "But needing three strikes to tie isn't the position you want."
Williams said "everything just went wrong for George" in the King of the Hill showdown. "You usually figure you'll start slowly because the practice lane is not even close to what the tournament lane is. But I started getting some breaks and some strikes, and he didn't."
Branham was open in the first two frames and Williams, with a six-pin lead, followed with a turkey. When Branham left the 9 pin for an open sixth frame, the match was all but over.
But it was hardly a letdown for Branham, who almost decided to forgo the Fair Lanes event until he finished third at Erie, Pa., ( (TC week earlier following some mechanical tips from roommate Randy Pedersen.
"At the beginning of the year, I picked two weeks to skip," he said. "But I'm glad I changed my mind. Now I'm going to bowl the rest of the winter tour. I'm on a roll, as they say in bowling."
Branham's last victory was at Union City, Calif. in 1987. He has been a professional for 10 years and collected his highest earnings of $63,990 in 1991.
A popular figure with the gallery, Branham said "the fans pushed me and kept me going this week. I never got down."
After the tournament, the players girded for another night in Baltimore, the result of yesterday's blizzard, before beginning the drive to North Brunswick, N.J.
Branham, who had always struggled here, didn't mind. Yesterday Baltimore moved way up on his list of favorite places.