RICHMOND, Va. - Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, has had an up-and-down year on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour, but she has gotten more comfortable and more confident as the season has gone on.
The 38-year-old right-hander only has made one championship round appearance in 2017, but she made the most of it, claiming the fifth title of her PWBA career. The late-season win guaranteed her spot in this week's Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship and gave her some momentum heading into the event.
O'Keefe now is eyeing her first major victory at PWBA Tour Championship, where she is among the 10 players still in contention for the coveted title and $20,000 top prize. The event is taking place on a four-lane setup inside the Old Dominion Building, part of the vast Richmond Raceway complex.
As with her season, O'Keefe got stronger as her opening match went on, and she defeated Germany's Birgit Poppler by scores of 214-209, 269-199 and 279-208 to advance to Tuesday's second round with a 3-0 victory in the best-of-five match.
O'Keefe is looking to improve on her previous two finishes at the Tour Championship, where her run each time ended one match shy of the televised finals. Both years, she fell to the eventual champion.
"I feel really good overall and confident in what I was seeing today and the choices I made," said O'Keefe, who won the 2017 PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open. "It's really challenging at times to not think about what happened in the past, but I know if I can keep focused on one shot at a time and not think too far ahead, I should be OK. The last two years, I felt like I bowled great, and it just didn't go my way. All I can do is control what I can control and make good shots. If it's meant to be, and I find myself on that show, even better."
Other winners Monday were Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California; Sin Li Jane of Malaysia; Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, the lone left-hander in the field; Malaysia's Siti Rahman and 2017 PWBA Rookie of the Year candidate Verity Crawley of England.
The 16-player field at the PWBA Tour Championship included all of the year's eligible PWBA Tour champions, and the bracket was filled in using the 2017 PWBA points list.
All six first-round matches took place Monday, and competition at the Old Dominion Building resumes Tuesday at noon Eastern.
Latvia's Diana Zavjalova and Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, earned first-round byes as the third- and fourth-ranked players on the 2017 points list and will join the action for the first time Tuesday.
Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, and Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, topped the points list in first and second place, respectively, and automatically advanced to the championship round, which will air live on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern.
As the points leader this season, Johnson mathematically has locked up her third-consecutive PWBA Player of the Year Award, but she, too, is looking for redemption at the Tour Championship. Despite being seeded into the semifinals all three years, the title has eluded her.
"It seems like the scores are pretty high so far, but you definitely have to be prepared for anything when it comes to the TV finals," said Johnson, a three-time winner on the PWBA Tour this season. "You always have to play the offensive and hope to strike. Sometimes you have to strike a lot, and sometimes you have to make spares and fill frames. Either way, it's going to be a fun night. Just being able to make the show is an honor and privilege, but I'd really like to finish the job."
The 2017 PWBA Rookie of the Year race was left unresolved Monday when Crawley defeated frontrunner, Daria Pajak of Poland, 3-2, in the opening round. Had Pajak won, she would've claimed the award outright. Now, if Crawley can make it to the TV show, she will earn the honor. Anything less, and Pajak will be the 2017 winner.
All rounds of the PWBA Tour Championship leading up to the TV finals are being broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association.
The lanes were specially installed inside the Old Dominion Building by QubicaAMF, the official supplier of bowling equipment for the 2017 Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship.