RENO, Nev. – Denmark’s Thomas Larsen said he was excited to return to the National Bowling Stadium because he’d bowled well there in the past, and he was able to continue that success Sunday with a win at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Masters.
The 31-year-old right-hander defeated top seed Jesper Svensson of Sweden in a see-saw match, 197-176, for his third Professional Bowlers Association Tour title and the first major victory of his career. He became the first bowler from Denmark to win the USBC Masters.
The Masters stepladder was broadcast live Sunday on Fox Sports’ FS1 as part of the 2021 PBA Tour television schedule. The event was the fourth of five majors on the 2021 PBA Tour calendar, and the win earned Larsen a $30,000 top prize.
“Coming to Reno is big-time bowling, and it’s such an awesome venue, where I always seem to be able to match up and bowl well,” Larsen said. “There were a lot of nerves today and a few shots where I couldn’t even feel my legs. Even with five minutes, I don’t know if that would’ve been enough time to calm myself down, but I’m glad I was able to throw enough shots to come away with the win.”
Though Larsen fell behind early in the final against Svensson, leaving a 4-6-7-10 split in the third frame, back-to-back splits from Svensson in the seventh (4-6-7-10) and eighth (3-7) frames, the second of which he was able to convert, allowed Larsen to rally back for a chance to lock up the game and title.
After striking in the ninth frame, a double and one pin would’ve sealed the victory. He struck on his first 10th-frame offering but missed left on his second, leaving a 3 pin.
Following the conversion from Larsen, the 26-year-old Swedish two-hander could’ve thrown three strikes in his final frame for a single-pin victory. The 10-time PBA Tour champion, who was looking for his second major title, left a 7 pin on his first shot to fall short.
While Sunday’s win did mark Larsen’s third PBA Tour title, it was his first on United States soil. His best finish previously was a runner-up effort at the 2017 PBA Cheetah Championship, also at the NBS in Reno, where he lost a lopsided final to Svensson.
Larsen’s other victories came in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait in 2013 and 2014, respectively, so, along with some redemption against Svensson, he saw a long journey back to the winner’s circle conclude in one of the world’s most iconic bowling venues.
“This is a dream come true,” Larsen said. “You can win all kinds of stuff overseas and have a great career, but if you can come over here and win, that’s like a stamp of approval. The Masters is an event I always enjoyed watching. To win it means so much, not only to me, but to everyone back home for all they do to help us succeed. There’s only about 100 people who bowl in our local center, and this shows that all the time and hard work are paying off, and we’re headed in the right direction.”
To set up the all-European final, Larsen used four consecutive strikes, starting in the fourth frame, to pull away from Junior Team USA’s Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri. Larsen won the match 213-200.
Robarge fell behind early in the semifinal after leaving, and failing to convert, the 4-6-10 split in the first frame. Larsen locked out the young left-hander when he narrowly clipped off the 8 pin from the 2-8-10 split he left in his final frame.
The 18-year-old phenom was looking to become the youngest Masters winner, youngest bowler in history to win a PBA Tour event and the first amateur to claim the Masters title since Arizona’s Brett Wolfe accomplished the feat at the National Bowling Stadium in 2002, the same year Robarge was born.
Anthony Simonsen of Las Vegas, the 2016 Masters champion, was 19 years and 39 days old when he won.
Robarge’s spot in the semifinal Sunday came with a clean game against three-time PBA Tour champion Jason Sterner of Rochester, New York, who had three opens in the match, including a washout and split in the sixth and seventh frames, respectively. Robarge advanced with a 224-166 win.
Sterner was making his first TV appearance in a major. His route to the show included surviving eight consecutive three-game matches after losing in the first round of match play Friday.
In the opening match Sunday against Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio, Robarge started with four consecutive strikes and owned a lead of more than 20 pins halfway through. Via, who has become a familiar face in the major finals over the past two years, left a pair of splits and never gained any traction in the game.
Via, the 2016 U.S. Amateur champion and a team gold medalist at the 2017 International Bowling Federation World Championships, still is looking for his first PBA Tour title. He recently finished fourth at the 2021 PBA Guaranteed Rate World Championship.
All rounds of qualifying and match play from the 2021 Masters were broadcast live on BowlTV.com and simulcast to FloBowling.
Competition this week for the more than 200 players included three five-game blocks over three days, with total pinfall determining the 63 bowlers who joined defending champion Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, in the bracket.
The Masters last was held in Reno in 2011, and this week’s event is the first of two major championships being held in the Biggest Little City in the World.
The U.S. Open will take center stage beginning Sunday afternoon with a pre-tournament qualifier. The long-format tournament will conclude live on FS1 on April 11 at 2 p.m. EDT. Australia’s Jason Belmonte is the defending champion at the U.S. Open.
The 2021 U.S. Open will be a collaborative effort between USBC and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, and the limited field will include the sport’s best bowlers, most of whom earned their spots in the event based on their recent on-lane performances. The list includes leaders on the PBA Tour points list and top performers at USBC events and PBA majors.