By the Skins of His Teeth: Feijen Wins $42,500 at Skins Event Debut

Trailing badly late in the finals of the inaugural Skins Billiard Championship, steely Niels Feijen of Holland summoned the composure to win three games in a row and pocket a knee-knocking $35,000 – enough to seize the lead and eventually win the debut event.

“I got out, and I didn’t know how much it was for,” said the jubilant Feijen after accepting a massive winner’s check for $42,500. “I sat down, and I heard it was for like $35,000, and I was like, ‘Man!’ … I knew it was big. But to get the skin, that was the pressure. It was intense. I mean, I was almost going to faint after I made the 9. I was super-shaking.”

Producers Allen Hopkins and Billiards International hope that the Skins Billiards Championship, held Nov. 19-20 in Atlantic City, N.J., will fill TV viewers with the same sense of anticipation. Patterned after the “skins” game in golf, the event was designed to capitalize on the public’s recent rabid fascination with games of chance, such as Texas Hold ’Em poker.

Here, 16 of the world’s top shooters vied for a cut of the gaudy $130,000 prize fund. (Each player ponied up a $5,000 entry fee, and the promoters added another $50,000.) In the first round, four sets of four players squared off, with each player taking $500 for each game won. The top eight winners advanced to the semis (to be televised with the final on ESPN in January), where the “skins” came into play. Each game carried a value, which would roll into the next until a player could win three games in a row (the “skin”).

The fast-paced and unpredictable format seemed to trump the typical mano-a-mano 9-ball telecast. Here, players openly rooted against whichever contestant seemed closest to a skin, and the loose atmosphere prompted several zingy exchanges between players and audience members. In a bit of a coup for the promoters, loose cannons Keith McCready and Earl Strickland both made it into the televised semis, and their lips were flapping. After Strickland thwarted Charlie Williams’ run for a skin in the semis, he turned to the bench and quipped acidly, “You guys are lucky. You’re pulling for me now. It’s the only time a pool player has pulled for me.”

The swings in fortune were intense. Heading into the four-man finals, Thorsten Hohmann and Willams led with $22,000 and $21,500, respectively. Feijen and Rodney Morris pulled up the rear with just $7,500 and $6,500. But by the fourth game, Morris had won the first skin, worth a hefty $13,000. Morris later ruined Hohmann’s bid for the second skin (by then worth $18,000) with a quick break-and-run. Feijen took the advantage from Morris in the next game with a break-and-run, then watched as Williams missed the 1 in the next game, leading to a two-game streak. In the next game, Hohmann tried a chancy 1-9 combo a good 24 inches from the corner pocket, and missed. That let Feijen back to the table to wrap up his $35,000 skin in the 11th game of the 12-game final.

Morris then won a playoff for the remaining $6,000 skin, putting him in second place overall with $25,500. Williams and Hohmann left with the same amount they had at the beginning of the final.

“That is one advantage this has over the ring game format,” Williams said, comparing the skins event to the other gambling-style game currently in vogue at pool tournaments. “With a ring game, there is one winner and five losers. Whereas here, everybody can win some money.” — Mason King

Owen Unlikely U.S. Open Champ

Saving his best for last Gabe Owen completed an unlikely run to the 29th U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship Sunday night in Chesapeake, Va., with a nearly flawless 11-3 drubbing of 2003 WPA World 9-Ball champion Thorsten Hohmann of Germany.

The 26-year-old Owen, who lives in Tulsa, Okla., took advantage of Hohmann’s opening-rack miscue and never looked back in completing his undefeated run through the traditionally star-studded 191-player field.

Hohmann looked poised to take the early lead, running through the first rack with ease, but he botched a short shot on the 9 ball. Owen raced off to leads of 5-1 and 10-2, running out from the break on five occasions, before closing out his surprising victory. The Open title was Owen’s first professional major win, and earned him $30,000.

“I’m really in shock,” said Owen, who was bear-hugged by best friend and 2003 U.S. Open champ Jeremy Jones after the final 9 had dropped. “Everyone is telling me I played almost perfect, but to be honest, it’s all a blur right now.”

Hohmann, who also lost in the winner’s bracket final to Owen, picked up $15,000 for second place.

Engert Masters Another Field

Thomas Engert can’t explain why, after years of playing in the shadow of his internationally successful countrymen Oliver Ortmann, Ralf Souquet and Thorsten Hohmann, he’s suddenly title-prone, but he’s not arguing.

“I can’t explain it,” said the 38-year-old German after coming from behind to beat Ortmann, 8-6, in the finale of the World Pool Masters in Egmond aan Zee, Holland. “But it’s okay with me.”
Engert, who picked up $50,000 in August at the International Challenge of Champions, earned another $20,000 at the Matchroom Sport-run World Pool Masters. The reigning European 9-Ball Champion may even have earned a spot on Europe’s 2004 Mosconi Cup squad with the win.

Engert led most of the match against Ortmann, but trailed 6-5 before rattling off the final three racks for the title in the 16-player international field.

Engert Wins Challenge of Champions

Thomas Engert, one of Germany’s most decorated pro pool players over the past 25 years, finally made his presence felt on the international stage by beating countryman Thorsten Hohmann in straight sets, 5-2, 5-2, to win the Challenge of Champions at the Mohegan Sun Hotel & Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Thursday night. The 38-year-old from Duren picked up the $50,000 as champion in the 14th running of the $50,000 winner-takes-all tournament.

Engert, the holder of more than 30 German national titles and a dozen European championships, controlled both sets with crisp shot-making and several fortuitous kick shots. Engert led from the start in both sets, forging a 4-1 lead in the first, and winning the last three racks in the second.

Hohmann, the 25-year-old former world champion, never got untracked against his longtime friend and frequent rival.

With Hohmann, Oliver Ortmann and Ralf Souquet all claiming world crowns for Germany, the Challenge of Champions title finally gave Engert hardware and a payday that matched his compatriots.

Hohmann Advances to Challenge Final

2003 World Champion Thorsten Hohmann of Germany steamrolled Finland’s Mika Immonen in straight sets, 5-3, 5-1, Thursday afternoon in the first semifinal at the 14th International Challenge of Champions at The Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino in Uncasville, Conn. With the win, Hohmann advances to the finale in the $50,000 winner-takes-all event.

Hohmann never trailed in either set. In the opening set, Hohmann capitalized on an Immonen scratch and ran out on his first two breaks in the alternating break format match to forge a 3-1 lead. Immonen fought back to tie the score at 3-3, but an unfortunate break on a safety attempt when the 2 ball caught the side pocket tip and caromed into the open allowed Hohmann to regain the lead. Hohmann then ran out from the break to seal the first set.

The second set was all Hohmann, as the former world champ used machine-like precision to forge a 4-0 lead. Immonen scratched on one break, and came up empty on another to give Hohmann ample opportunities at the table.

The second semi will feature European 9-ball champion Thomas Engert of Germany against Japanese champion Hiroshi Takenaka.

All German Challenge Final

Thomas Engert will meet countryman Thorsten Hohmann in a $50,000 winner-takes-all shootout in the finale of the 2004 International Challenge of Champions at the Mohegan Sun Hotel in Uncasville, Conn. Engert dispatched luckless Hiroshi Takenaka in straight sets, 5-2, 5-3, to reach the title match in the international eight-player event.

Struggling to make balls on the break, Takenaka repeatedly turned over open tables to Engert in their semifinal tilt The 32-year-old, ranked No. 1 in Japan, did manage to hold a 3-2 lead in the second set, but Engert responded with two flawless run-outs to regain command of the match.

Engert, 38, and Hohmann, 25, have met numerous times in Europe in the past two years, with the pair splitting title-match battles at the 2004 European Championships. Hohmann emerged victorious over Engert in the Euro 8-ball final, while Engert prevailed in the 14.1 title match.

Big Apple Day Two Complete

The big name matches are piling up at the Master Billiards 9-Ball Challenge in Queens NY. Multiple battles deserve star billing on Friday evening, with Thorsten Hohmann facing Rodney Morris on one side of the arena while crowds also gathered around the Danny Harriman/Young Hwa Jeong match and a Jose Parica/Danny “Kid Delicious” Basavich battle.

By 9PM, Parica, Morris and Harriman were the ones still standing in the winners bracket. Other strong contenders still in the fight include George ‘Ginky’ San Souci, returning from his declared retirement to play in this event, and the always dependable Ralf Souquet.

Saturday morning will feature a marquee match between Francisco Bustamante and Johnny Archer with the cameras of worldpool.com running at 11:00 AM EST. The match will be available for internet PPV at Worldpool.com.

Online brackets are updated with all of Friday’s winners at http://www.azbilliards.com/bigapple2004/brackets.cfm

Alex, the Lionhearted

Alex Pagulayan

Alex Pagulayan

Down 8-2 and fearing he would lose his second straight World Pool Championship final, steely Alex Pagulayan lived up to his nickname, “The Lion,” and roared back to score a 17-13 victory Sunday night in Taipei City, Taiwan.

Hometown favorite Pei-Wei Chang seemed invincible in the early rounds, drilling tough shots from every point on the table and stymieing Pagulayan with lock-tight safeties. But, at 11-6, Chang missed a 2 ball and gave Pagulayan some breathing room. Slowly gathering momentum and falling into his familiar jaunty rhythm, the 26-year-old Filipino (now living in Canada) started stitching together racks and forged an 11-11 tie. With Chang back on top, 13-11, Pagulayan threaded the cue ball through a tight opening in a Chang safety to sink the 1 ball and score a carom on the 4 on the same shot, blowing a hole in Chang’s title hopes. He then cruised through six consecutive racks to claim the $75,000 title, sparking a wild celebration that sent him leaping and dancing around the arena.

Chang, a 25-year-old Taipei resident, won $35,000 for his second-place finish. He ably represented an enormously impressive Taiwanese contingent at the WPC, which placed four shooters in the final eight. They had no answer for Pagulayan, however, who defeated no fewer than four Taiwanese aces on his way to the title.

It was a career-defining victory for the so-called “Killer Pixie,” who refused to relive the 2003 WPC final when he fell into a hole against Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann and couldn’t recover. He also hoped not to repeat the final of the 2002 U.S. Open, where he lost to Germany’s Ralf Souquet.

“No more second place!” Pagulayan screamed as he ran through the arena after his victory, soon breaking into a rendition of “We Are the Champions.”

For more details from the 2004 World Pool Championship, check out the event’s Web site at www.worldpoolchampionship.com.

“Killer Pixie” gets shot at redemption

402aAlex Pagulayan has earned a return trip to the finals of the World Pool Championship, set for Sunday night in Taipei City, Taiwan. The fiery Filipino (now living in Canada) came up short against little-known Thorsten Hohmann in the finals of the WPC in 2003. This year, the “Killer Pixie” will meet an even more obscure opponent, 25-year-old Pei-Wei Chang from Taiwan, who shocked Johnny Archer 11-10 in the quarterfinals and then came back from a 6-1 deficit against Sweden’s Marcus Chamat to win his semifinal match, 11-9.

Check out http://www.billiardsdigest.com/tournaments/index?tournament_id=11 for BD’s on-the-spot coverage, or check out the event’s Web site at http://www.worldpoolchampionship.com

Japan Cup Day 1 complete

Shuji Nagata

Shuji Nagata

Day one of the 6th Japan Cup is complete with most of the top seeds from the field of 83 players advancing to day two untouched.

After the first day of play, Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Ralf Souquet, Thorsten Hohmann and Mika Immonen are joined by Antonio Lining, Ramil Gallego, Young Hwa Jeong, Charlie Williams, Hiroshi Takenaka, Shintaro Sugaya, Terukazu Mukai, Go Takami and Syuji Nagata on the winners side.

Warren Kiamco and Dennis Orcullo did take early trips to the one loss side, but are still playing. Mike Massey has been eliminated.

Japanese players are performing well on their home turf. Go Takami upset Warren Kiamco 9-6 and Shuji Nagata beat Antonio Gabica 9-1 on day one.

The tournament runs until June 13th with a wheelchair event beginning Thursday and a Women’s division beginning June 12th.

Further information from the event is available on the official website at http://www.ibcjapancup.com/