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The Winners, And Still Champions

It didn’t take long for Team USA to finish off Team Europe on the final day of the 2005 Mosconi Cup at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Entering Day Four, Team USA, winner of nine of the previous 11 US vs Europe team challenges, needed a single win from a possible six singles matches.

As was expected, Team Europe, needing a clean sweep, sent out its strongest player and captain, Mika Immonen of Finland first Sunday morning. The US, with the luxury of being able to save its top players for later in the day, answered with Mosconi debutante Shawn Putnam. Putman had lobbied with US captain Johnny Archer for the chance to play first on the final day, with hopes of sending home the title-clinching 9 ball. But a missed opportunity prevented Putnam from breaking Immonen’s serve in the alternating-break, race-to-five match, and was forced to watch Immonen post a clean runout from the break in the deciding game for a 5-4 win. Immonen’s win narrowed the US lead to 10-6.

But Jeremy Jones, who had struggled through the first days of the four-day event, found himself in a familiar position against Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann. With a chance to repeat his Mosconi-ending shot at the MGM in 2003, Jones took advantage of Hohmann’s empty break shot in the case rack, forcing the German to kick at the 1 ball, then ran out from the resulting position to nail down Team USA’s 10th win in 12 tries.

“We’re changing Jeremy’s nickname to “The Closer,” said Earl Strickland, who earned the Mosconi Cup Most Valuable Player trophy for his perfect 5-0 record.

“Nobody on either team played exceptionally well this week, except for Earl and Rodney,” said Archer. “But it’s weeks like this where you play with heart and do what you have to do to win. And this team showed a lot of heart.”

Team USA Puts the Hammer Down

Team USA captain Johnny Archer couldn’t wait for the action to commence on Day Three of the 2005 Mosconi Cup in Las Vegas. With his team holding a 6-4 lead in the 12th annual edition of the transatlantic 9-ball clash, Archer knew he could stack his line-up for the three doubles and two singles matches.

The only Americans who had yet to play singles were heavy-hitters Rodney Morris and Earl Strickland. They would be matched up against Holland’s Alex Lely and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat, the only Euros who’d yet to see singles action.

“We set today’s line-up to sweep all five matches and end this tournament right now,” Archer said of the race-to-11 format. “As long as we were ahead during the first two days, I wanted to save Rodney and Earl for today. And I could put them in the doubles match between their two singles matches. The Europeans will have to face them three matches in a row. Then, we’ll close the day with me and Jeremy (Jones). We’re going for the kill.”

Archer’s plan almost worked to perfection, as Team USA , despite dropping the first match of the day, rolled to four wins and now teeter on the brink of their 10th Mosconi Cup title in the 12-year history of the event.

Having lost five of the first six doubles matches, Team Europe juggled its pairings for Saturday’s action. Captain Mika Immonen of Finland paired the Dutch duo of Alex Lely and Neils Feijen, and placed newcomer Raj Hundal of England with Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann.

The move paid immediate dividends when Lely and Feijen topped the American duo of Charlie Williams and Shawn Putnam, 5-3, to narrow the US’s overall lead to a single match, 6-5.

Things continued to look promising for the Euros when Lely, playing flawlessly after a shaky opening day, opened a 3-1 lead over Morris. But a positional error and miss allowed Morris to tie the match at 3-3, and a scratch on the break when leading 4-3 signaled Lely’s last trip to the table. Morris cleaned up that rack, and ran out from the break for a 5-4 win to give the US another two-match cushion.

From there, the US floodgates opened. Strickland and Morris continued their unbeaten streak as teammates with a convincing 5-2 beating of Immonen and Chamat, and Strickland raced through a 5-2 pounding of Chamat in singles. The team of Archer and Jones then pushed the US to the hill with a solid 5-3 win over Hundal and Hohmann.
The final day of the Mosconi Cup will consist solely of single matches, with the US needing just one win to secure the trophy.

A Day On The HIll At Mosconi Cup

On a day filled with tight matches, Team USA gained a two-match lead over Team Europe, 6-4, Friday at the 12th Annual Mosconi Cup in Las Vegas, although both squads will likely spend a restless night reliving missed opportunities that could have impacted the match score.

Bucking the trend of previous Mosconi Cups, Team USA won all three of its doubles matches on Day Two of the race-to-11 transatlantic 9-ball clash, while dropping both of its singles contests. And in both instances, American players all but handed the match to their Euro counterparts. Shawn Putnam, fresh off an opening match doubles win, squandered numerous opportunities and a 3-0 lead in dropping a 5-4 match to England’s Raj Hundal. And Jeremy Jones, coming off a doubles win with US captain Johnny Archer, bungled his way out of four elementary run-outs in a heartbreaking 5-4 loss to Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann.

But the Americans swept through doubles play, with Putnam and Charlie Williams besting Hohmann and Holland’s Neils Feijen, and Jones and Archer topping Euro captain Mika Immonen and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat by identical 5-4 margins.

In the day’s final match, Earl Strickland played the perfect gentleman with partner Rodney Morris in a convincing 5-2 win over Hundal and Holland’s Alex Lely. The Euros held an early 2-0 advantage, and threatened in game three, before a miss by Lely opened the floodgates for a five-rack US assault.

Strickland, who had battled fans during his Day One match, and unleashed an expletive-laced barrage during a live on-air interview, explained his change of heart.

“I need to stay more under control,” Strickland said after the match. “Because my emotions hurt my teammate. But I just think every player here deserves equal respect when they’re playing. These are the best players in the world.

“But I’ll tell you,” he added, “There will never be another one of me. I guess that’s why I’m always introduced as ‘The One and Only,'”

Comeback, Blowup Highlight Mosconi Day One!

After dropping the opening two matches on the first day of the 2005 Mosconi Cup, Team USA charged back with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a contentious 5-4 doubles victory, to earn a 3-2 lead at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The transatlantic team event features two new twists for 2005, a 30-second shot clock and alternating singles-doubles matches. Because the event is carried live throughout the United Kingdom on Sky Sports, the format features one five-hour block of matches each day. The shortened TV window forced promoter Matchroom Sport to cut the 2005 Mosconi to a race to 11. To assure each player opportunities for singles play, Matchroom is running a three doubles matches, with two singles matches sandwiched in between.

The event opened with Thorsten Hohmann of Germany and Neils Feijen of Holland thumping the American duo of captain Johnny Archer and Jeremy Jones, 5-1. Euro captain Mika Immonen then beat Archer in singles, 5-2, to give Europe a quick 2-0 match lead.

But the Americans stormed back with Cup newcomer Shawn Putnam and Charlie Williams bouncing 24-year-old Raj Hundal of England and Alex Lely of Holland, 5-3. Williams, not traditionally a strong performer in the Mosconi Cup, continued his powerful Day One performance with a convincing 5-3 singles win over Feijen to draw the Americans even, 2-2.

As if scripted, the day’s finale, pitting the U.S. duo of Earl Strickland and Rodney Morris (unbeaten in 2004) against Immonen and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat, evolved into drama-filled cat fight. The Americans free-wheeled to a 4-0 lead, then withstood a furious Euro rally that knotted the match at 4-4. During the match, the pro-Euro and pro-American fans took turns pushing the good-taste envelope, and Strickland got into one of his patented verbal sparring matches with several fans.

The Euro pair had a chance to complete the comeback, but found themselves hooked shooting at the 5 ball. With their extensions used up (each team is allowed two per rack), Chamat appeared to foul by not attempting his shot before the clock expired. Referee Micheala Tabb awarded the Euros a second chance after ruling that the clock had not given Chamat fair warning. Chamat fouled on his attempt, and the Americans ran out to earn the 5-4 win and a 3-2 match lead at the close of action.

In the post-match interview, aired live in the U.K., Strickland berated the European fans and engaged in a profanity-laced exchange with a female fan in the crowd.

With that, the 2005 Mosconi Cup was off and running. Play will continue Friday with another round of three doubles and two singles matches. For more information on the day’s action, log on to MosconiCup.com

Team Europe Gunning for USA at Mosconi Cup

One of the strongest European teams in years believes that it can dethrone Team USA at the 2005 Mosconi Cup, set to kick off Thursday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev.

The four-day international pool tilt will pit Americans Johnny Archer, Rodney Morris, Shawn Putnam, Jeremy Jones, Earl Strickland and Charlie Williams against a stacked European squad, featuring Mika Immonen, Niels Feijen, Thorsten Hohmann, Raj Hundal, Marcus Chamat and Alex Lely.

The Americans have won nine of the 11 previous Cups, including a 12-9 victory in 2004.

BD Publisher Mike Panozzo notes that, in previous years, Team Europe has been somewhat handicapped by the inclusion of snooker stars and unproven United Kingdom 9-ballers, often included to boost interest and television ratings in the U.K., home of tournament producer Matchroom Sports and primary TV partner Sky Sports. Team Europe has no such hindrances in 2005, and has, in fact, pieced together its most talented squad ever.

However, Panozzo has still picked the USA to win the event this year (and in the process has set off a firestorm of controversy in online chat rooms), based on its overall talent, experience and sense of entitlement.

For up-to-the-minute updates on Mosconi Cup action, go to the event’s Web site at www.mosconicup.com.

U.S. Open Field Down to Half

Ochoa's play is turning some heads.

Ochoa’s play is turning some heads.

The 256-man full-capacity field has been cut in half on the fifth day of the 30th annual U.S. Open 9-ball Championships in Chesapeake, Va. there were no gimme matches left as several big name had slipped into the treacherous, mile-deep losers’ bracket.

Reno Open winner Marlon Manalo and 2003 BCA 9-ball Open titlist Tony Robles found themselves slugging it out deep in the one-loss bracket on Friday afternoon. Nearby, major event winners Marcus Chamat and Mike Davis faced off as red-hot Robb Saez and 2004 BCA champion Thorsten Hohmann battled for survival in the one-loss bracket.

Playing on diamond tables with 4 1/2 inch pockets and an absolutely unforgiving cut the finesse players and most experienced pros seemed to have an edge.

“You aren’t seeing a lot of guys breaking and running out,” said pro Tony Crosby.

Among the 16 players left in the winners’ bracket was Efren Reyes, who dropped defending U.S. Open champ Gabe Owen to the one-loss side, 11-8 on Thursday night. Reyes will meet Filipino countryman Jose Parica on Friday night. After a weak showing at the World Pool Championships, the Filipino contingent is performing quite well here; Alex Pagulayan and a resurgent Francisco Bustamante will meet in a winners’-bracket match on Friday night as well.

So far, the surprise of the tournament is young Sylver Ochoa, 19, a college sophomore at Texas-Pan American and a mainstay on the Fast Eddie’s regional tour. Ochoa beat Keith McCready Thursday night, 11-8, to stay undefeated. He will face Ralf Souquet on Friday night in a winners’-bracket match.

The sixteen players now left in the winners’ bracket are:
Nick Van den Berg, Charlie “Hillbilly” Bryant, Jose Parica, Efren Reyes, Ernesto Dominguez, Charlie Williams, Ralf Souquet, Sylver Ochoa, Tang Hoa, Niels Feijen, Andreas Roschkowsky, Jeremy Jones, Alex Pagulayan, Francisco Bustamante, Johnny Archer and Troy Frank.

GIFT OF GOLD COMES TO CHANG, OUSCHAN, GREENE AND SANCHEZ

As he stood on the medal stand late Sunday afternoon at the Saalbau arena in Bottrop, Germany, Pei-Wei Chang still had a look of amazement on his face. The 26-year-old from Chinese Taipei was the recipient of the gold medal in Men’s 9-Ball at the 2005 World Games, in large part because he was the fortunate recipient of an unfortunate shot.

After making numerous errors in the final games of his gold-medal match against Thorsten Hohmann, allowing the German to make up a 10-6 deficit, Change sat helplessly watching Hohmann work his way carefully through the case rack. But the German undercut a simple shot at the 7 ball in the side pocket, handing the World Games gold to the thankful Taiwanese player.

“I was very, very lucky,” said Chang, runnerup to Alex Pagulayan at the 2004 World Pool Championship. “I gave the match to him, and he gave it back.”

Chang was joined by 18-year-old Austrian Jasmin Ouschan (Women’s 9-Ball), England’s Gerard Greene (Snooker) and Daniel Sanchez of Spain (Carom) as gold medalists, as the billiard competition concluded.

Ouschan, two-time European champion, handled error-prone Jennifer Chen of Chinese Taipei, 9-5, showing steely nerves and a razor-sharp game the belies her 19 years. The Austrian trailed 1-0 against Chen, but rolled out to a 7-2 lead, then buckled down for two solid run-outs to secure the match after Chen had fought back to 7-5.

Sanchez and Holland’s Dick Jaspers put on a nifty 3-cushion exhibition for the capacity crowd at the Saalbau, with Jaspers using a run of 11 to take an 18-14 lead after just four innings. The match stayed close throughout, with Sanchez scoring twice in the 15th inning to reach 40 points. Jaspers responded with three from the break in his half of the inning to tie the match and force a playoff. Each player started with an opening break, with the player who scores more points awarded the victory. Sanchez ran just two from the break shot, but won the match after Jasper’s cue ball froze to an object ball after his break shot. His futile attempt failed, and Sanchez, who won the gold medal at the 2001 World Games in Akita, Japan, nabbed the top prize.

Greene, a 31-year-old, upset Chinese sensation Junhui Ding, in the snooker finale, rebounding from a 3-1 frame deficit to win, 4-3. The final frame was not decided until Greene banged home a cross-side shot on the green for a 71-45 win.

But it was the seesaw, emotionally draining Chang-Hohmann match that had the crowd buzzing. Confident and precise, Chang raced off to a 4-0 lead in the race-to-11. But a poor safety attempt in the fifth rack gave Hohmann a chance to loosen his powerful arm, and quickly the match was knotted at 4-4. Hohmann earned what would be his only lead at 5-4, then Chang returned to form and won four consecutive games for a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 lead. With alternating breaks, Chang would have at least three opportunities to close out the match. A scratch on the 1 ball turned into a two-game swing, as Hohmann cleared that rack, then ran out from the break to cut the lead to 10-8.

Chang then missed a long, but simple, shot on the 2, and the lead was down to a single game. Even after Hohmann scratched on his break in the next game, Chang failed to get out, hooking himself on the 4 ball and fouling on his kick attempt. In the case game, Chang opened with a soft 1-5 combination, but again he ended up hooked on his next shot. Chang barely clipped the 1, and left Hohmann a table-length cut on the 1 along the bottom rail. And when Hohmann sliced the 1 in, much to the delight of the partisan crowd, Chang’s fate appeared sealed.

But Hohmann left himself a thin cut on the 7 ball to the side pocket, and left the 7 dangling in the jaws. A shocked Chang carefully pocketed the final three balls for the gold medal.

Hohmann, Chen Reach Gold Medal Match

The opening lag turned out to be Thorsten Hohmann’s best friend in his semifinal match against American Rodney Morris at the World Games in Duisburg, Germany Saturday afternoon.

Winning the lag earned Hohmann the advantage of breaking in the deciding game in the alternating break, race-to-11 format. And with the score tied 10-10, the German star ran a flawless rack from the break to win the match and advance to Sunday’s Gold Medal match. Hohmann awaits the winner of the second semifinal, pitting Greek surprise Vangelis Vettas against Chinese Taipei’s Pei-Wei Chang. Morris will play the loser of that match for the Bronze Medal Saturday evening.

In women’s 9-ball, Women’s Professional Billiard Association star Jennifer Chen, of Chinese Taipei, defeated Korea’s Sung-Hyun Jung, 9-4, to earn a spot in the Gold Medal match. Chen awaits the winner of the semifinal matchup of former WPBA regular Line Kjorsvik and Austrian teen Jasmin Oschan.

Eighteen-year-old Chinese snooker sensation Jun-Hui Ding cruised into the Men’s Snooker Gold Medal match with a convincing 4-1 win over England’s Mark Allen. Ding dropped his second 100-plus break in the match, posting a 102 in the third set. Belgium’s Bjorn Haneveer meets England’s Gerard Greene to determine Ding’s opponent.

And in Carom, Dick Jaspers of Belgium scored 40 points on his 40th birthday to defeat Turkey’s Semih Sayginer, 40-26 in 28 innings. Defending World Games champion Daniel Sanchez of Spain will play Turkey’s Murat Coklu in the second semifinal match Saturday afternoon at the Saalbau arean in Bottrop, site of the cue sports competitions.

The World Games is the largest gathering of non-Olympic sports, with more than 3,000 athletes representing more than 100 countries. The cue sports made their World Games debut in 2001 at Akita, Japan.

MORRIS EARNS BRONZE AT WORLD GAMES

Rodney Morris found just the salve to ease the sting of Saturday afternoon’s 11-10 loss to Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann at the World Games in Duisburg, Germany. Back at the table in the Saalbau Arena in Bottrop, site of the billiard competitions, just hours after the heartbreaking loss, Morris free-wheeled his way to an 11-2 rout of Greece’s Vangelis Vettas to secure the Bronze Medal in Men’s 9-Ball.

Morris sped off from a 1-1 deadlock with six consecutive rack wins, and coasted comfortably home.

“When I got up a couple of games,” said Morris, “and my break started working better, I knew that he couldn’t catch me. Not with alternating break.

“The key to this match was focus,” he added. “I didn’t think of anything other than the table. I wasn’t leaving here without at least the Bronze.”

Also earning Bronze Saturday evening at the international sports festival was Semih Sayginer of Turkey, who beat countryman Murat Coklu, in Carom. Sayginer bolted off to a 35-22 lead after just 20 innings, before Coklu chipped away at the lead. Coklu pulled to within five at 37-32, before Sayginer closed out the match, 40-32, in 24 innings.

In Snooker, Belgium’s Bjorn Haneever whitewashed 17-year-old Mark Allen of England, 4-0, to capture the Bronze.

Line Kjorsvik of Norway, back at the table after an eight-month layoff, earned Bronze in Women’s 9-Ball with a 9-6 win over Sung-Hyun Jung, Korea’s top-ranked woman player.

“Rocket” Lone US Medal Hope

Rodney Morris overcame an early 4-1 deficit against Germany’s Thomas Engert Friday evening to win 11-8 and advance to the semifinals of the men’s 9-ball division at the 2005 World Games in Duisburg, Germany. With the ousters Friday of Charlie Williams and Vivian Villarreal, Morris is the only U.S. contestant remaining in the four cue sport medal categories.

Morris will face former world 9-ball champion and reigning Billiard Congress of American Open 9-Ball Champion Thorsten Hohmann of Germany on Saturday for the right to play in the Gold Medal game. Hohmann squeaked past Sweden’s Tom Storm, 11-10, to earn his semifinal spot. The other Saturday semi in the men’s division will pit China’s Pei-Wei Chang against surprising Vangelis Vettas of Greece. Vettas, who shocked Germany’s Ralf Souquet in the opening round of the 16-player single-elimination field, dumped Williams, 11-7, on Friday. Chang, 2004 World Pool Championship runnerup, beat Holland’s Niels Feijen, 11-7.

In Women’s 9-Ball, Korea’s Sung-Hyun Jung beat Villarreal, 11-8, to earn a spot in the semifinals. She’ll be joined by Jennifer Chen, who upended Allison Fisher, Jasmin Oschan of Austria, and Norway’s Line Kjorsvik.

Two Turks, Semih Sayginer and Murat Coklu, earned semifinal spots in the Men’s Carom discipline, along with Dick Jaspers of Holland and defending champion Danny Sanchez of Spain.

Men’s Snooker saw 18-year-old Jun-Hui Ding post a 138 clearance enroute to a 3-0 win over Germany’s Lasse Munstermann. Ding reached the semis along with Amateur World Champion Mark Allen of England, countryman Gerard Greene and Belgium’s Bjorn Haneveer, who overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat England’s Gavin Pantall, 3 sets to 2.