By his own admission, David Traber was the weak link in the finals of the Greater Baltimore Open yesterday at the Country Club Lanes. His four opponents had a combined total of 33 PBA tour championships to his one.
"That was one of the strongest [television] shows I've ever seen," said Traber. "The way I looked at it, I was the weakest player out there.
"Not that I'm not capable, but it's nothing compared to what those guys have accomplished," said Traber. He made his assessment minutes after seizing a needed opportunity to beat No. 1 seed Eric Forkel, 217-214, in the championship game.
As was the case in the three previous games, the championship wasn't decided until the last ball was thrown. Needing two strikes and an eight count to win, Traber closed with a triple, finishing with four straight strikes.
That ending continued a trend set in the first two games by Walter Ray Williams Jr., who threw triples in the final frame to win by a single pin each time. For the four games, the winners averaged 29.5 pins in the final block.
"That's unbelievable," said Traber, whose six-pin (203-197) win over Williams was the biggest margin of the day. The Woodstock, Ill., resident had only two strikes in the first nine frames of that game, but threw a double with an eight count in the 10th.
When Williams managed only a nine count on his second roll in an effort to make a triple in the last frame for the third straight time, Traber was assured of his first win.
"When you can beat Walter Ray, you've done something," Traber said. "I think I've beaten him the last three times, but before that I think he got me eight or nine straight times. That's why I don't like it when he sneaks in there."
In the final match of the day, it was a rare blown spare by Forkel that opened the door for Traber. After opening with three straight strikes to take an early 21-pin lead, Forkel left the seven pin standing two straight times. In the fifth frame his shot slid to the right, giving Traber his opportunity.
"I don't think I missed that shot all week," said Forkel, who had led the field through the last three rounds leading to the finals. "The ball just came hard off my hand."
It provided an opening for Traber, who had trailed from the outset after opening in the first frame with one of only three splits seen all day. "All I could hope for was a chance," said Traber. "If he gave me one, then it was up to me."
After Forkel's miss, the two matched blocks, striking in the sixth and ninth and sparing the seventh and eighth. Forkel tacked on a second strike, but couldn't get the third that would have iced the championship, settling for an eight count and a spare.
That left it up to Traber, bowling last, and his triple enabled him to overcome a seven-pin deficit. "All I was thinking about was making a good shot," he said of the pressure-packed final frame.
"The first [strike] I hit dead perfect, the second was a little light. But the main thing was that I hit what I was looking at."
The win was worth $18,000 to Traber, more than tripling his earnings for the year (now $24,930). But he said the satisfaction of a second tour win (the first was the PBA National Championship in Toledo last year) had perhaps more meaning than the top prize.
"There was something to prove," said Traber. "It gets me out of the category of players who win and never do anything again.
"It's a guarantee to go on to the Tournament Of Champions and makes you know you can make it out here. I had the opportunity to [win] and I did."
Traber gave high praise to the PBA's first tournament in Baltimore in three years.
"I think the conditions were as fair as we've seen," he said. "And the people did a great job promoting the tournament."
Country Club Lanes owner Dennis Baldwin and general manager Curt Pezzano estimated that about 3,500 fans attended the four-day event, including 500 for the sold-out finals. They also indicated that the PBA tour would return to Baltimore next summer.