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Haugen earns first PBA title

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — Exactly 365 days after falling just short of winning his first career title in honor of his dying grandmother, Michael Haugen Jr. returned to Lake County Indiana and finally captured that elusive Denny's Professional Bowlers Association Tour victory.

Haugen, who lost in the semifinals of last season's Indiana Classic and lost his grandmother minutes later, defeated Wes Malott, 247-239, on Sunday to win the event for his first title in 200 career events.

The 40-year-old Haugen nearly lost his exemption two seasons ago when he failed to finish in the top 40 of the world point rankings. He regained his spot on tour at the 2006 tour trials. A few months later, Haugen lost here in the finals to Norm Duke, 279-233.

This time, Haugen advanced to his first title match since 2003 with a narrow 194-192 win over Todd Book. He then watched as Malott could have struck with his first ball in the 10th frame top win the title match. Instead, Malott left a 10-pin to give Haugen the victory.

"At first, I just wanted to make sure nothing came out of the back," Haugen said of his reaction to Malott's ringing 10-pin. "Then it donned on me that he needed the first one, and after that it was just relief. You hate to see anyone lose on a shot like that, but I'll take it. It's not like I bowled a bad game."

Haugen made a key ball change after the semifinal match, when he struggled on the right lane.

"The only thing I was thinking going into the title match was that the right lane was going to be key because I didn't throw very good shots on that lane in the semifinal," he said. "I changed balls and thought, 'If this ball can hold the pocket for me and I can strike on the right lane, I think I can get it done.' I struck four out of five times on that lane (in the title match), so it turned out to be a huge change."

Haugen wasn't the only bowler on Sunday whose fate was determined by their opponent's final shot. In the third of four PBA Women's Series events, Joy Esterson defeated Liz Johnson, 10-7, in a one-ball sudden death roll-off after they tied at 226.