AJ Johnson takes lead at 2019 USBC Masters

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- AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, posted the top block Thursday at the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Masters to take over the top spot through two rounds at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino.

The 26-year-old right-hander fired games of 246, 222, 234, 257 and 256 for a five-game total of 1,215 to bring his overall tally for 10 games to 2,328, a 232.8 average.

Opening-round leader Solomon Salama of Beverly Hills, California, dropped to second with 2,314, while Japan's Shota Kawazoe moved into third with 2,281. Jake Peters of Henderson, Nevada, is fourth with 2,242, and Michael Machuga of Erie, Pennsylvania, is fifth with 2,217.

Johnson has been avoiding mistakes through his first two rounds, recording a low game of 211.

"I'm just staying patient," said Johnson, who was the runner-up at the 2015 USBC Masters. "This pattern is playing pretty tough, so all I'm trying to do is hit the 1-3 (pocket) as much as I can. I'm trying to take everything in stride. Just hit the pocket, make my spares and move on."

Johnson has made some changes to his game early in 2019, including switching his bowling ball brand and dropping to 15 lb. equipment. It's been an adjustment, but he's seeing progress each week.

"It's been a slow progress, but it's been progressing in the right direction each week," said Johnson, a five-time member of Team USA. "I've been bowling really well, but I've just been missing one or two things here or there. I feel the switch to from 16 to 15 has helped my ball reaction because the (bowling ball) core numbers are so different. I feel like I have more variety and don't feel like I'm locked into certain balls at certain times throughout the day. Plus, all of the guys on the team have been really helpful."

Johnson's second round was contested on the fresh 39-foot oil pattern being used this week, and he'll return to the fresh Friday to conclude qualifying. He was able to play to his strengths Thursday and hopes to continue to find that reaction for the remainder of his time at Gold Coast.

"I tried to stay behind it and roll it a little more, while staying right," Johnson said. "Once you get in, the pattern tends to flatten out a bit and get tricky. A lot of guys were throwing urethane today, so I felt I could stay a little closer to it and roll it, which plays to my A game. It worked out very well today, and hopefully my A game still is in play tomorrow."

All competitors will return Friday for the final round of qualifying, with bowlers on C Squad kicking off the action at 11 a.m. Eastern.

Qualifying consists of three five-game blocks over three days to determine the 63 players joining defending champion Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, in match play. Anderson is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the bracket but can improve his seeding through qualifying.

After two rounds, Anderson is tied for 99th place with a 2,004 total.

Heading into Friday, Colombia's Oscar Rodriguez and Minneapolis' Matt McNiel are tied for 63rd place with a 2,048 total, a 204.8 average.

Competition in the match-play bracket will begin Saturday, with three-game total-pinfall matches determining which players advance. The top five players will advance to Monday's stepladder finals, which will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. Eastern on FS1.

FloBowling is providing livestream coverage of the 2019 Masters up to the stepladder finals.