IPT Open Continues: Filipinos Dominate; Fisher’s Perfect While Most Women Falter

The IPT’s North American 8-Ball Open is shaping up to be the Philippines 8-Ball Smackdown.

The Filipino contingent flew their flag high and often on Monday — the second day of the history-making, $2 million event — as six Pinoy shooters scored perfect 4-0 records in round-robin play: Efren Reyes, Alex Pagulayan, Francisco Bustamante, Marlon Manalo, Dennis Orcollo and Ronato Alcano.

Joining the ranks of the undefeated was Brit snooker and 9-ball superstar Allison Fisher, who steamed through a fairly soft bracket to qualify for the next round of play. However, she was one of only two women of the 15 female tour members to score a winning record, and one of only four to advance. The U.K.’s Sarah Ellerby had the other winning record, 3-1.

Top female pros making early exits Monday included Ireland’s Karen Corr, who went 1-3 in a particularly tough draw; the U.K.’s Kelly Fisher, 1-3; Helena Thornfeldt of Sweden, 0-4; and American Monica Webb, 0-4.

Play on Monday centered on the second set of 100 competitors in the 200-player field, divied up into 20 groups of five. The top three in each group advanced to today’s round, featuring the remaining 120 players, parsed into 20 groups of six.

The 80 eliminated players from the first round will settle for $2,000 each. The winner of the event will pocket a record $350,000.

Here’s a brief wrap-up of Monday’s highlights:

• One of the biggest surprises of the Open so far is the number of players who qualified for the event — those not among the 150 regular IPT tour members — who are posting undefeated records. These surprise contenders from Monday’s play include Dutchman Rico Diks; England’s Karl Boyes; and Anthony Ginn of Australia.

• Keith Bennett, a 27-year-old house pro at Breaktime Billiards in Wilmington, N.C., who made it into the Open as alternate after Hall-of-Famer Jim Rempe bowed out, posted a 4-0 record in the first-round on Monday.

• The four women to advance to Tuesday’s matches in the round-of-120 were Allison Fisher, 4-0; the U.K.’s Sarah Ellerby, 3-1; Hall-of-Famer Loree Jon Jones (U.S.), 2-2; and Austria’s Gerda Hofstatter, who managed to limp into the next round with a 1-3 record when her games-won percentage topped two other players in her group with the same record (Ed Kelly and Jim Weast, both of the U.S.; Hofstatter’s games-won percentage was in fact just 1 percent higher than Weast’s).

• Beyond the Filipinos, who were expected to do well, several favorites sent messages to the field that they were not to be underestimated. Also posting 4-0 records were well-regarded Americans Johnny Archer and Shannon Daulton, and Germany’s Oliver Ortmann.

Another One Bites the Dust: Wei Grounded by Visa Woes

Another contender for the $2-million purse at the International Pool Tour’s North American 8-Ball Championship has withdrawn from the running. Liu Wei of China, who won a qualifier to compete in the event in Shanghai in mid-June, officially opted out July 20 after the U.S. government rejected his travel visa. With the event only two days away, IPT officials chose Lee Heuwagen to replace Wei.

Heuwagen played in multiple IPT qualification tournaments. He was the second of only two players to place third in two North American Open qualifiers, a performance statistic that landed him in the number two spot on the alternate list after Keith Bennett, who will replace Hall-of-Famer Jim Rempe.

IPT officials informed Heuwagen yesterday that he would need to get a plane ticket to Las Vegas. The event will take place July 22-31 at The Venetian. Heuwagen was very excited to hear the news, though he did state that he was disappointed for Wei’s unfortunate circumstance.

Elated Bennett Takes Rempe’s Spot at IPT Open

Jim Rempe’s loss is Keith Bennett’s big, big gain.

Hall-of-Famer Rempe has pulled out of the first event of the International Pool Tour’s season, leaving a space for a shocked and elated Bennett, who finished tantalizingly close to the cut at several tour qualifiers.

“It was unbelievable,” said the 27-year-old house pro at Breaktime Billiards in Wilmington, N.C. “I had some really tough beats there. … I can’t wait to get out there and try to get a title.”

The title in question is the $350,000 first prize at the IPT North American 8-Ball Open, starting Sunday at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. The 200-player field will be chasing $2 million in prizes, a record amount for pro pool.

Rempe withdrew from the tournament citing “personal reasons,” relating to his ability to hold up under the grueling IPT tournament format, according to IPT officials. He’s still eligible to compete in the season’s other four events. Rempe was not immediately available for comment.

Bennett spent much of early 2006 traveling the country and chasing qualifiers for one of 10 open tour member spots. He hit the four U.S. qualifiers, but failed to finish high enough for a slot. He then went to several qualifiers for the 50 additional spots at the North American Open, and finished third at two of them, just missing the cut.

Fortuitously, Bennett recently had been helping Hall-of-Famer Ewa Laurance prepare for the North American Open. They were in the midst of a practice session on Thursday when Bennett received the cell-phone summons from IPT tour director Deno Andrews.

Bennett spent much of Friday making hurried preparations for his week-long trip to Vegas, including making arrangements for his two children, ages 10 and 6. “I have a lot of stuff to take care of,” he said.

He wasn’t intimidated by what promises to be the strongest field ever assembled for a pool tournament, or the round-robin format that will have players competing 10 hours a day.

“I’ve been playing with the pros since I was 14 years old, so I don’t think the nerves will affect me,” he said. “And the format is pretty much alien to everyone. I feel like I have good shot at it if I get a couple rolls.”