A year ago, Wes Malott was the "Great Right Hope" of the Bayer Earl Anthony Medford Classic.
He was the only right-hander in the four-man field and steamrolled to victory.
Malott is back in the finals today, attempting to become the first two-time winner in the eight-year history of the Lumber Liquidators PBA event, and you can slap the same label on him, but for a very different reason.
Malott is the best hope to derail the locomotive that is Patrick Allen — the only left-hander still standing.
"If I don't get PA off the show in the first match "¦," Malott says of the televised finals on ESPN.
His voice trails off as he contemplates the task. He and the other two finalists, Tommy Jones and Bill O'Neill, figure to chew up the right side of the lanes with their high-revolution deliveries and three times the play of the left. Their side will break down quickly and require quick adjustments, just as they did last year for the lefties against Malott.
And just as they did last week in Reno, Nev., for righties against Allen, who won four straight matches and his 11th career title.
Two of Allen's victims were O'Neill and Malott, and Malott gets first crack at redemption today.
"I think I have the best chance to get PA off the show," says Malott. "Otherwise, he could easily build up the left side and allow his arm swing to get loose and go on a roll. That and he's bowling great. He's going to be tough to beat."
It's like a maze: Righties following Malott will be entering for the first time; Allen would have a map.
The show will also feature the championship match of the PBA Women's Series. Wendy Macpherson, the tournament leader who recently was voted into the U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, will take on Stefanie Nation, who has a title to her credit and would be a strong contender for player-of-the-year honors with another.
The men's semifinals will be first, with Allen facing Malott, followed by the winner meeting O'Neill. The women's title match will be next, followed by Jones against whomever remains.
In addition to repeating here, Malott is trying to win multiple titles in a season for the first time in his career, and he's in the process of wrapping up the Versatility Swing crown, a measure of performance on six oil patterns.
This will be his third straight finals here, something no one else has accomplished.
"Medford is just a special place for all of us, but even more of a special place for me," says Malott, whose other win this season, the fourth of his career, was in Vernon Hills, Ill. "I have had quite a bit of success here, plus I get along with everybody, and they're great supporters of the PBA and all the players. It'll definitely be a special moment Sunday."
The field as a whole is something special, too, and easily recognizable. Malott, O'Neill and Allen have been on 12 TV finals between them this season. Jones, the No. 1 seed, is making his first, but his 12 titles the previous four seasons are more than anyone on tour, and he has the best record in history on TV at 34-8.
O'Neill, the No. 2 seed, made the show for the fifth time this season, two more than in his first three years combined. Twice this season he's advanced to the title match, only to come up empty.
He has a streak of 71 tournaments without a win to start his career.
O'Neill climbed into the No. 2 position Friday with seven strikes in a row to finish his next-to-last game, beating Allen in a match and overtaking Malott on the leaderboard.
His rise is a combination of things, he says.
"I'm understanding ball reaction better, and my timing is way better than last year," says O'Neill. "Just seeing things so many times, I'm able to adapt now. The last couple of years in this format, I bowled a 160 game every single week in every single block. When I caught a bad pair (of lanes), I could never figure them out. This year when I get a bad pair, I'm at least getting it to 190 or 200."
His plan today is simple.
"Just go out and bowl," he says. "I haven't had a whole lot of success on TV, but this is a new week. It's anybody's game. If I go out and do what I'm supposed to do, I'm very confident I can get it done."
Allen is making his third finals appearance here and second straight, but he has yet to win in Medford.
The set-up today is eerily similar to Reno for the lone lefty coming from the back of the pack.
The stern, determined countenance Allen showed there was evident in the position round Friday as he vaulted to the finals.
"Lately, I've bowled some big games to advance to the next round," he says. "I did that last week in Reno. I feel good right now. I believe in myself and believe I can do it. There's no other way to put it. I'm putting myself in positions to take advantage and, fortunately, I'm able to walk through the door."
When he's in that mode, he chats with himself, as he did Friday while zooming past Sean Rash and Steve Jaros for the last TV spot.
He told himself to "keep it exciting, keep executing. Just like last week. I try to use past success to motivate me and make the shots I need to make."
Macpherson, an alternate for this event after failing to make the women's roster during Tour Trials last summer, could hamper Nation's bid for the top player award. The latter is third in points behind Carolyn Dorin-Ballard and Michelle Feldman.
"She's an awesome bowler," says Macpherson, who split in two matches against Nation Friday. "She's done very well throughout all these tournaments. Anyone who would be my opponent would be very capable of handling themselves. I just hope on Sunday in my heart and soul I'm happy with my performance, irregardless of how I finish."
Macpherson and Nation are both members of Team USA.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-449, or e-mail email@example.com