Belmonte, O'Neill set pace at 2019 U.S. Open

Round 1 standings

Australia's Jason Belmonte and Bill O'Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, are longtime friends and like to travel and stay together while competing on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour.

Both scored exceptionally well during the opening round of qualifying at the 2019 U.S. Open, but that's likely not what they talked about at their house Friday afternoon.

Despite being first and second in the first-round standings, they each missed a few spares during the eight-game block at Victory Lanes that left them teetering between satisfaction and frustration.

The two bowled on the first of the day's three squads, and O'Neill was the front-runner heading into the final game. He closed with a 180 game for a 1,771 total, while Belmonte's 192 was enough to land in the lead with 1,777, a 222.13 average.

Their scores were challenged late in the day by past Junior Gold Championships winner Zachary Doty of Nassau, New York, who tossed games of 257 and 265 late in the block, before finishing with 211 to fall just short.

Doty finished the day in third place with a 1,762 total, and he was followed by 2005 U.S. Open champion Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas (1,727), and Shawn Maldonado of Houston and Marshall Kent of Yakima, Washington, who are tied with 1,722.

Defending champion Dom Barrett of England is tied for 11th place with 1,669.

O'Neill and Belmonte both are happy with how they bowled overall on a challenging 45-foot oil pattern, but they're also both experienced enough to know you can't give away pins while competing against the best bowlers in the world, especially at an event like the U.S. Open, where strikes are much harder to come by.

"Getting off to a good start is really important at this tournament, but there is a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth for today to end the way it did," said O'Neill, who owns 11 PBA Tour titles, including the 2010 U.S. Open for his only major victory. "I missed way too many spares. I missed two 10 pins and a 3-6-10, and that's what I'm thinking about, not how I bowled overall. I'll definitely be shooting some spares on the practice range tomorrow."

The miscues are something they intend to address as they warm up Saturday for their second block of qualifying, but the roommates also know better than to linger too long on such a small piece of the marathon event.

"I'm really happy with a lot of the shots I threw today, but I'm also really frustrated making four really simple errors," said Belmonte, a 22-time PBA Tour champion, including a record 11 major titles. "I missed four spares, and those are the kinds of errors that when I turned up here, I didn't want to make. I was adamant in my practice and leading up to this event and worked really hard to make sure my spare game was sharp. In that regard, I'm a little disappointed in myself, but I'm focused on it not happening again."

All competitors must endure 24 games of qualifying over three days, with each day featuring a different lane condition. Round 2 will take place on a 41-foot oil pattern, and Sunday's third-round challenge will be 37 feet.

By the time O'Neill and Belmonte take the lanes Saturday night, they will have moved on from the things that went wrong Friday and aim to build on what went right.

"Physically, I bowled really, really well, and my picture of the lane was really clear," O'Neill said. "I just couldn't get my ball to go through the pins the right way the last two, and I couldn't really strike. There were a lot of 4 pins and 10 pins, but it was a good day overall and something to build off of."

Each round of the 2019 U.S. Open, leading up to the championship round, is being broadcast live on and simulcast on FloBowling.

After 24 games, the field will be cut to the top 36 for an eight-game cashers' round on a fourth oil pattern, after which, the top 24 will advance to round-robin match play. The 56-game pinfall totals, including bonus pins for each win in match play, will determine the five finalists.

CBS Sports Network will have live coverage of the stepladder finals on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home the coveted green jacket and a $30,000 top prize.

Having Belmonte as an ally and a few lanes away during qualifying are things O'Neill has learned to use to his advantage. They've found success as doubles partners and they have a friendly rivalry that pushes O'Neill just a little bit harder.

O'Neill is looking for his third Tour title in 2019, while Belmonte is eying a fifth win this season and fifth PBA Player of the Year Award. The U.S. Open is the one major that has eluded Belmonte.

"It really helps to be around someone like Jason, because if you're around someone who's constantly successful, it makes you bowl better and makes you push harder to be successful, too," O'Neill said. "It can work the opposite way, too, so that's something you want to be aware of. We have a good time together and have a great rivalry. He definitely pushes me, and I wouldn't want to travel with anyone else."

The U.S. Open is the final major championship on the 2019 PBA Tour schedule and is conducted jointly by the United States Bowling Congress and Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.