- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) - Australia’s Jason Belmonte became the first bowler in nearly 50 years to successfully defend the U.S. Bowling Congress Masters title Sunday.

Belmonte beat EJ Tackett of Huntington, Ind., 221-177 in the final.

Belmonte, who earned $50,000, is the third player to successfully defend a Masters title, joining Dick Hoover (1956-57) and Billy Welu (1964-65).

“This tournament is so difficult to win,” said Belmonte, who won his ninth PBA title and third major. “I always have high expectations for myself, but to go down in history as the third one and first in 50 years to win back-to-back is a huge honor.”

The reigning Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year also became the seventh player to win consecutive majors. He won the PBA Tournament of Champions in January.

In the semifinal, Belmonte hung on for a one-pin victory over Michael Haugen Jr. of Phoenix, 235-234, by putting a spare on the board in the final frame and getting nine pins on the fill ball.

Belmonte, who entered the championship round as the fifth seed, opened the stepladder finals with a 227-214 win over fourth-seeded Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y., and beat third-seeded Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., 202-173.

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