Sweden's Jesper Svensson earns No. 1 seed for TV finals at 2021 USBC Masters

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RENO, Nev. -
Since joining the Professional Bowlers Association, Jesper Svensson has been a rising star and one of the premier left-handers on the PBA Tour.

He has found the winner's circle each year since 2015 in a variety of formats - singles, doubles and PBA League competition - and he's now in position to claim the second major title of his career at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Masters, where he will be the top seed for Sunday's live TV finals.

The Masters stepladder will be broadcast Sunday on Fox Sports' FS1, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern as part of the 2021 PBA Tour television schedule. The event is considered a major on the PBA Tour, and the champion will take home the coveted Masters trophy and $30,000 top prize.

The 26-year-old Svensson rolled undefeated through the event's iconic double-elimination match-play bracket this weekend at the National Bowling Stadium and downed fellow European Thomas Larsen of Denmark, 628-579, in the match to determine the top seed for the championship round. Larsen will be the No. 2 seed.

2021MastersTop5ForWeb400x225The two will be joined on the show by Jason Sterner of Rochester, New York, Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio, and 18-year-old Junior Team USA member Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri, who emerged from the elimination bracket, surviving the four-player shootout that determined the last three seeds.

Sterner, who started the final game with nine consecutive strikes, earned the No. 3 seed with a 708 set and was followed by Via (691) and Robarge (681). Australia's Sam Cooley, who recently won his first PBA Tour title, shot 674 and was eliminated, finishing sixth overall this week. Via and Robarge will meet in the opening match.

"In general, qualifying was a big grind for me, and I never had a good reaction, so it was just about trying to keep my head above water and make the cut," Svensson said. "I didn't have a lot of big numbers shot against me in match play, so I was able to keep it going and was fortunate. I am looking forward to tomorrow, and I think I have a big game in me, if I can just throw 10 more good shots."

Svensson, the 2015 PBA Tour Rookie of the Year, entered the bracket as the No. 45 qualifier after averaging 201 over 15 games on a challenging 40-foot oil pattern.

His scores didn't pick up too much in his six victories in match play, but success in the three-game, total-pinfall matches often can be more about strategy and luck of the draw. Additionally, this week, filling frames was a key to success.

On the way to the TV show, the 10-time PBA Tour champion averaged 208.22 in match play over 18 games, and the path included wins over past Masters champions Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, and Anthony Simonsen of Las Vegas and 2016 PBA Player of the Year EJ Tackett of Bluffton, Indiana.

To advance to the match with Larsen, which guaranteed him a spot on the show, Svensson had to get around Robarge, the only other left-hander he faced along way. Both players started the match in the 240s, before they experienced an unfamiliar oil transition.

Svensson was able to escape with a 647-597 win, and he learned quite a bit from watching Robarge's strategy in the match. The two previously had a chance to get familiar with each other's games as doubles partners in a special adult-youth doubles match that was part of the recent PBA Junior National Championship.

The Swedish two-hander will factor the notes he took into his game plan for Sunday's title match, though his strategy ultimately will be affected by what Robarge does earlier in the stepladder.

Svensson's first major win came at the 2016 PBA Tournament of Champions, where he became the youngest player to win that event, just days shy of his 21st birthday.

His 10 titles have come in four countries, with two - the 2015 PBA Chameleon Championship and 2017 PBA Cheetah Championship - coming at the NBS in Reno.

Larsen also is a PBA Tour champion, but both of his wins - one in 2013 and one in 2014 - have come overseas.

The 31-year-old right-hander qualified for the bracket in the No. 46 position, averaging 200.47 in qualifying, but he was able to pile on the strikes in match play, out-averaging his opponents 225.27-209.61, while tossing three of just 19 sets of 700 or better in match play.

The final three spots on the show weren't determined until the final frame of the four-player shootout, with Sterner and Via each shooting in the 270s and Robarge sneaking in on the momentum of a 267 start.

Sterner, a three-time PBA Tour champion, lost his first match Friday and then survived eight consecutive matches to earn the third spot in the stepladder. He will face the winner of the opening match between Robarge and Via.

Via is eying his first PBA Tour title, while Robarge, who will be 18 years and 227 days old Sunday, is looking to become the first amateur since 2002 to win the Masters, and a victory would make him the youngest player in history to win the event. Anthony Simonsen was 19 years and 39 days old when he won in 2016.

In 1983, eventual USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke won the Cleveland Open in North Olmsted, Ohio, to become the youngest player to win a PBA Tour title. He was 18 years and 345 days old.

Since Robarge is not a PBA member, he would not get credit for a PBA Tour title.

All rounds of qualifying and match play from the 2021 Masters were broadcast live on BowlTV.com and simulcast to FloBowling.

Competition this week for the more than 200 players included three five-game blocks over three days, with total pinfall determining the 63 bowlers who joined defending champion Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, in the bracket.

Butturff exited the 2021 event Friday night with a loss to 2019 PBA Rookie of the Year Mykel Holliman of Collierville, Tennessee, in a rematch of the 2019 title tilt, 730-702.

The Masters last was held in Reno in 2011, and this week's event is the first of two major championships being held in the Biggest Little City in the World.

The U.S. Open will take center stage beginning Sunday afternoon with a pre-tournament qualifier. The long-format tournament will conclude live on FS1 on April 11 at 2 p.m. EDT. Australia's Jason Belmonte is the defending champion at the U.S. Open.

The 2021 U.S. Open will be a collaborative effort between USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America, and the limited field will include the sport's best bowlers, most of whom earned their spots in the event based on their recent on-lane performances. The list includes leaders on the PBA Tour points list and top performers at USBC events and PBA majors.