He was the PBA Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997. He had 24 titles to his credit entering the year and is the tour's all-time top money winner with over $2 million in earnings. So when Walter Ray Williams Jr. hadn't won a title through the first five tournaments of the season, the bowling world was beginning to wonder what the problem was. The answer — no problem at all.
Williams tightly held on to his No. 1 ranking, taking the Flagship Open on Feb. 28 for his first tour victory of the season and followed it up two weeks later with a win over Tim Criss in one of the PBA's “Triple Crown” events, the BPAA U.S. Open. For the remainder of the Winter/Spring tour, though he amassed an average better than any other bowler, he was shut out in the wins category and left an opening for Parker Bohn III to make a run at Player of the Year.
Bohn dazzled, winning three tournaments during the season and finishing runner-up two more times. Already ahead on the money list, Bohn then opened up the fall season with a victory in the $50,000 Japan Cup to make him the front runner for the Player of the Year voting.
Not so fast. No lead is safe as long as Williams remains on the tour. In the next five tournaments, all he did was win three, finish second in another and third in the other to climb up and over Bohn. So despite a fantastic ride by Bohn and a late season surge by Norm Duke, Williams has all but wrapped up Player of the Year honors. With only the Basic Mixed Doubles Championship remaining on the PBA Tour, he is on pace to break the tour's all-time average record. Currently boasting a 225.71, he needs to remain hot in order to better Mike Aulby's mark of 225.49 set in 1995. Since the Mixed Double Championship is not included in the computer rankings, Williams has already sewn up the top spot for the fifth time in the rankings' six year existence.
On the women's side, 1992 Player of the Year runner up Carol Gianotti-Block may have finally earned top honors. The 31-year-old tour veteran from Perth, Australia earned a season-high $136,150 in 1998 and finished atop the PWBA's Philip Morris ranking system. She registered wins at the Columbia 300 Delaware Open and the Storm Three Rivers Open and amassed the second highest average on the tour, behind only Dede Davidson.
Hall of famer Aleta Sill earned $120,005 to place second behind Gianotti Block and in early 1999 should become the first female bowler to crack the million dollar mark in career earnings. She began the 1998 summer tour with a bang with a 276-151 demolition of Tammy Turner in the championship round of the BPAA U.S. Open for the sixth “triple crown ”win of her career.
The surprise of the year came at the Sam's Town Invitational, the final “triple crown” event of the year, as longshot Julie Gardner claimed her first career title with a shocking victory over Davidson in the finals. Marianne DiRupo, who rolled an all-time record four perfect games in the tournament, including two consecutive, finished third.
Bowling also saw it's second historical ABC-sanctioned 900 series in 1998. Just as Nebraska studentJeremy Sonnenfeld had done in 1997, 28-year-old league bowler Tony Roventini rolled three consecutive 300 games on Nov. 9 in his hometown of Greenfield, Wisconsin.