Wes Malott left Medford with the hot hand a year ago, and no one has been able to cool the big Texan's trigger finger since.
Now, he's in position to put the finishing touches on some intriguing story lines when the Lumber Liquidators Professional Bowlers Association Tour returns to Lava Lanes.
That is, if he doesn't first do it in Reno, Nev., today.
The Earl Anthony Medford Classic begins with the tour qualifying round on Wednesday and culminates with the televised finals Sunday on ESPN. A Women's Series pro-am Tuesday kick-starts the week's activities.
The Women's Series will play here for the first time, ending its seven-event regular schedule. Sixteen exempt bowlers compete alongside their male counterparts, leading up to a one-match TV final Sunday.
Malott became Medford's seventh champion in as many seasons when he defeated rookie phenom Rhino Page last January. The star-studded final also included Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III and Patrick Allen.
It was Malott's only victory of the season, giving him one in each of the past three years, and it started an impressive second-half run.
"It definitely was a springboard in some ways," says Malott, who went on to record single-digit placings in all but one of the remaining 10 events, including five top-fives. "When you get off to a good start that quick, it keeps you focused and keeps the adrenaline going. Coming off a win like that, it definitely picks you up."
He wound up third in the world point rankings and tied for fourth in the player-of-the-year race, won by Chris Barnes.
This season, Malott continued his steady, high-level play, winning his fourth career title in Vernon Hills, Ill., then making it to the finals two weeks later before losing to Page just before the holiday break.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound right-hander made the TV finals in four of his eight events and, as the second half unfolds, leads the player-of-the-year standings by six points over Norm Duke.
Malott also is first in the world point rankings (112,681) and championship-round appearances (four) and second in earnings ($57,600), average (225.96) and match-play appearances (seven).
The first tournament of the second half, the National Bowling Stadium Championship in Reno, Nev., ends today.
As the PBA returns to Medford, the annual story line is still in place: Will there be a two-time champion here?
The closest person to accomplishing that was Brian Himmler. He triumphed in 2006, then lost to Sean Rash in the title match the following year.
Like the first two Medford winners, Ricky Ward and Bryan Goebel, Himmler is no longer on tour. So if a two-time victor is to emerge soon, it will be Malott, Rash, Pete Weber or Mike Wolfe.
And if it's Malott, he will complete another personal story line: He'll be a multiple winner in the same season for the first time — a hump he admits he desperately wants to get over.
The caveat is that Malott is in position to win today. He is the No. 2 seed in Reno behind Walter Ray Williams Jr.
"It's just a matter of time now," Malott says of winning two titles in a season. "I think this season will be it. It should have been done already."
After winning 11/2 months ago over Ken Simard, 216-212, outside Chicago, Malott locked horns with Page two weeks later in Baltimore. That finals field was the same as Medford a year ago, as Bohn and Allen were also in, but the result wasn't. This time, Page downed Malott, 197-189.
Malott had polished off Bohn the match before, 290-204, but a couple bad shots against Page to start out put him in a hole. Malott then missed the transition of the lanes midway through match and gave away more pins.
Nevertheless, he rallied and forced Page to mark in the 10th to secure the win.
"To even come back and have a chance to win was crazy," says Malott.
Page might have had revenge on his mind, says Malott, but more importantly, the young left-hander was interested in capping what had been a substandard first half with something on which to build.
Malott planned to use Reno to construct a foundation of his own. He hadn't had much success there, isn't a fan of the stadium setting and skipped the event last season.
This year, a doubles tournament preceded the main PBA event, so there were too many points available not to come west earlier — even though he and his family spent the break moving across Texas from Argyle to Pflugerville, which is near his hometown of Austin.
"I've always bowled fairly well in Medford, and I enjoy the atmosphere and environment," Malott said prior to making the finals in Nevada. "I'm using Reno for more practice and getting a little sharper, since I didn't have a chance to bowl over the break. I'm more focused on next week and trying to defend."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail email@example.com