Epic, If Not Perfect
by Mike Panozzo Jul 21, 2002, 7:17 PM EST
Strickland was pumped up after claiming his third WPA world title.
It wasn't the break-fest everyone anticipated, but Earl Strickland's thrilling, come-from-behind, 17-15, win over Francisco Bustamante in the final of 2002 Hasseroder World Pool Championship will be remembered as one of the epic heavyweight battles in 9-ball. It certainly was the most nerve-racking world championship final in the 12-year history of the World Pool-Billiard Association tournament. And it kept the 500-plus fans jammed into the Cardiff International Arena riveted to their seats for more than two hours.
While the experts suggested that the marquee matchup would be a slugfest of five- and six-rack runs, the final instead ebbed and flowed on unnegotiable table layouts, scratches and missed shots. Strickland scratched on the break three times in the match, while Bustamante scratched twice on his break, the second time a crushing foul while leading 15-13.
After forging and early 3-2 lead, Strickland spent the remainder of the evening playing catch-up. The match was tied at 6-6 and 7-7, before Bustamante rattled off a nifty three-rack run for a 10-7 lead. The next game would be critical for both players.
"If Bustamante hit me with a package at that point," said Strickland, who claimed $65,000 and his third WPA world crown, "I think the match would have been over. I was very fortunate he never came with the run I thought he would."
Instead, Strickland kicked the 1 ball into the side, and made a brilliant shot on the 2 enroute to a run-out that pulled him back to within two games at 10-8.
From there, Bustamante's break shot was leaving him little maneuverability, and Strickland kept reeling the Filipino back in. Strickland pulled to within one at 11-10. The games then seesawed: 12-10, 12-11, 13-11, 13-12, 14-12, 14-13, 15-13.
That's when Strickland made his move. Bustamante scratched on the break, and Strickland ran out to cut the gap to 15-14. In the ensuing rack, Strickland ran to the 6 ball, where he had to play safe because the 6 and 8 were froze. Bustamante tried to jump out of the safety, but jawed the 6. It was his last trip to the table. Strickland ran the remainder of the rack, and then posted his only two-rack run of the match to claim the title.
And when the last ball dropped, Strickland lept onto the Brunswick Gold Crown and pumped his fists as the emotionally drained crowd roared its approval.
"It's a complete honor to win this title," said Strickland. "This is different than the world titles I won in the early '90s. Since the event moved to Cardiff, this has become the toughest field and the greatest tournament in the world. I didn't think I'd have many more shots at this, so it means a great deal to me."
Bustamante kept the loss in perspective.
"It doesn't matter if I win or lose," said Bustamante, who is clearly the best player not to have won a world title. "I just play the best I can play. The finish doesn't matter. I dedicate this medal to my daughter, who died on Friday."
For complete Group standings, and Final 64 pairings, http://www.worldpoolchampionship.com/results.asp">click here:
Bustamante bent over backwards in his effort to win his first world title.
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