Florida first-timer leads at 2017 USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Until recently, Wiley Collins of Winter Springs, Florida, didn't know much about the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, but he's now in position to become a noteworthy part of the event's storied history, if he can hold on to win the 2017 Classified Singles title.

Just a few days shy of a milestone birthday, the 49-year-old rookie rolled games of 202, 257 and 193 at the South Point Bowling Plaza to catapult to the top of the standings with a 652 series. Robert Linder of Henderson, Colorado, previously held the lead with 634.

Collins actually needed a mark in his final frame to secure the lead, but he and his teammates had no idea how close he was. He calmly closed with two strikes and a nine-count to finish his USBC Open Championships debut in the spotlight.

"I didn't even think about the possibility of taking the lead or consider that I'd gotten there," said Collins, a security officer. "I was just out there bowling and having a good time. I loved the experience and sharing it with my friends and wife."

Collins and his wife, Michele, also an Open Championships first-timer this year, started bowling in a USBC-certified league in 2009 as a way to spend time together and do something fun at the same time.

They've been league members in the Orlando, Florida, area each year since, though the opportunity to compete in the Open Championships didn't come up until this season, when their fellow bowlers at Airport Lanes in Sanford, Florida, decided to put together a group this year for the trip to Las Vegas.

"It was the first time we'd been invited, so we decided to take advantage of the offer and come out to compete and have some fun with our friends," Collins said. "They told us a little about the venue and what the lane conditions would be like, but, to be honest, I had no special expectations. I knew it would be a great experience and opportunity, and I just wanted to throw my ball the best I knew how and see what happened."

It took some time for Collins to get acclimated to the Bowling Plaza and the biggest stage in bowling, and he opened his tournament career with a 475 series Tuesday in team.

Doubles provided some challenges for Collins as well, as he posted games of 141, 168 and 103 for a 412 set, before everything finally fell into place.

"I definitely got off to a slow start in doubles, and nothing really seemed to be working," said Collins, who finished his 2017 Open Championships campaign with a 1,539 all-events total. "In singles, I just threw the ball from the same spot, maybe a board or two different, and, suddenly, it started working for me. My friends told me the two patterns would be tough and that it would be a very humbling experience, and they were right."

The 2017 Open Championships started its 149-day run on Feb. 18, and the tournament will conclude July 16.

While Collins modestly accepted congratulations following his performance, Michele Collins wasn't quite as calm and collected. She said she'll also likely be the one frequently checking the online leaderboards.

"I'm seriously feeling so much pride right now that I can't wrap my head around it, and I can't stop crying," said Michele Collins, who had 457 in doubles, 432 in singles and 376 in team for a 1,265 all-events effort. "We had absolutely no expectations of anything except just bowling. He really wanted to get to 600, but we had no idea he'd fall into the lead. I think I'll probably end up spending a lot of time looking online. Even with everything else we have going on, this will become a priority."

The Classified Division includes bowlers with entering averages of 180 and below.

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