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Goebel back to defend his title

This won't be the first time Bryan Goebel has returned to the site of triumph.

Yet, it never gets old.

You go back to a place where you've won and there's always a feeling you can do it again, says Goebel, winner of the 2003 Professional Bowlers Association Medford Open. You know when you get there, there's going to be a little attention at the beginning, and that's always fun.

Goebel was the subject of much fanfare after he defeated Danny Wiseman in the championship match, 257-212, at Lava Lanes on the second stop of the tour's second half last January.

— The win was a landmark. It was his 10th since joining the tour full time in 1989 and made him eligible for the Hall of Fame.

It also came only two months after a first-half funk pushed him to the brink of retirement, enhancing an already compelling story line.

Encouraged by his wife, Kelly, Goebel left his Shawnee, Kan., home to compete on the West Coast swing and, lo and behold, was a near-instant winner.

He joined 2002 titlist Ricky Ward as the only champions the Medford Open has known.

When I did that, Goebel says of nearly quitting, it made me more relaxed. It was one of those things where you go, 'All right, I'll just finish out the year.' I came out with less expectations and actually bowled much better.

In addition to winning here, he advanced to the round of eight at the season-ending World Championships, beating Hugh Miller, Amleto Monacelli and Norm Duke. He missed making the finals and an opportunity to win his second career major when Pete Weber defeated him, 3-0.

Goebel finished the season No. 23 in earnings with &

36;62,234 despite bowling only 14 events, which matched his career low.

Retirement hasn't entered his mind since, even though this year has required an adjustment, with full fields week after week, young guns emerging from the amateur ranks and the intensity of play climbing like a thermometer in summer.

Next year's exempt tour has everyone shooting for 50 spots, either through tournament victories or the point standings.

In each standard tournament, nearly two-thirds of the field is eliminated in the first qualifying block of nine games. Another nine games trims the field to 32, when match play begins.

The old format we used to bowl, you had three blocks to try to relax and bowl well, says Goebel. Now you go in and get one day, nine games, and it's do-or-die. There's no sitting back and relaxing while you're waiting for the next block. It's a lot more aggressive format. With guys like me, who have been around for 15 or 16 years, it's a different mind-set.

This marks the third straight year Goebel has had a nondescript first half. The previous two seasons, he rebounded in the second half.

He hopes to continue the trend.

Goebel ranks 64th in points pending completion of the Earl Anthony Classic today.

This first half was better than last year's first half, he says, but it still wasn't very good. I've got to have a good second half. I'm not very far from the top 50. Just a decent 10 weeks will put me in. I've been there a lot of times in my career and never really panicked, never really worried about it.

His experience might work for him against younger players.

I'd like to believe that, says Goebel, adding that patience is indeed a virtue as the pressure mounts. A lot of young kids, when they get in that position, when they get close, they tend to get mad and overanxious. They're not patient enough. The ones that get close can kind of choke.

Goebel's first half was marked by a couple of close calls, notably the first week, when he made the final eight at the Banquet Open in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

He led 3-1 over Brad Angelo, last year's rookie of the year, then lost the next three games to miss the finals.

Three weeks later at the Pepsi Open in Grand Rapids, Mich., he made the cut to 64, then had one of the worst days he's experienced and finished 64th.

Several times he missed the first cut by slim margins.

I got off to a good start, then faded at the end, says Goebel, but I was really close a lot of times.

He'll need to get closer the next couple of months to qualify for next year's tour.

If he gets there, Goebel favors the match-play format and will take his chances against anyone in a best-of-seven format.

If he doesn't earn exemption, the retirement he considered a year ago might be at hand.

It's in the back of my mind, he says, because of my age and how long I've been out there. You try to put it out of your mind, but if I miss it, it's not the end of the world. I have another world at home.

And he never gets tired of returning to that site.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail