Alex “The Lion” Pagulayan moved undefeated through the field to claim the first stop on the Stan James Canadian Nine Ball Tour. The defending US Open and former World Nine Ball Champion displayed not only the skill but also the personality that has made him a worldwide fan favourite, putting on impromptu trick-shot displays between matches and clowning with the crowd.
Pagulayan’s journey was not without bumps. His first opponent, Jason Klatt, took him all the way to double-hill in the race-to-nine format before Pagulayan could take the win. In fact, Pagulayan may have faced the toughest trail of any other player. After the struggle with Klatt he had to overcome the always-tough John Morra and still get by the eventual fifth and third-place winners (Jody Matheson and Felix Beardy) before being challenged by our runner-up, Alain Martel, for the championship.
The Stan James Tour, expanded this year to six stops, is the national qualifying tour for Canada. The top points leaders at the end of the year will earn spots in the WPA World Nine Ball Championship, the Canadian National Championships, the World Cup of Pool, the BCA Open and other prestigious international invitational events. Players are seeded into the events by their performance in past tour stops and only the top four performances of the year are used to accumulate points, allowing players to throw out their two weakest performances.
Pagulayan, while a Canadian passport holder (qualifying him for play on the tour), plays international events under his native Philippine flag. This means that while he was victorious here, the current international rules situation denies him the points advantage and so the Canadian points race is now led by Alain Martel, followed by Felix Beardy and Erik Hjorleifson.
This first stop on the tour was an important kick-start for these players. Now they must spend the rest of the tour proving their consistency. The sixty-four-player field began play on Saturday and the winnowing began soon after. Four-time Canadian National snooker champion Kirk Stevens and power Nine Ball player DJ McGinley were sent to the sidelines on the first day of play. The same fate was shared by former Canadian Nine Ball Champion Jeff White and former Canadian runner-up Al Logan.
With twenty tables available for play, the field was narrowed to sixteen cueists before 8 PM on Saturday night. This allowed those left in contention a good nights rest to fight the coming championship battle on Sunday. After only two rounds on Sunday the winner’s side of the charts was reduced to Pagulayan and Martel, while Erik Hjorleifson, Jody Matheson, Felix Beardy and Peter Kippie were still struggling through the sudden-death side of the chart.
Former Canadian Open champion Hjorleifson ended the run for Matheson while the once Scottish Amateur Snooker Champion Peter Kippie was sent to rest by Felix Beardy. Beardy, known by his nickname of ‘the Cat’ has only been playing pool for six years and has rapidly become a force with which to reckon on the Canadian scene.
While Hjorleifson and Beardy Fought for fourth place Martel and Pagulayan struggled over the hot seat. Beardy won his bout 9-5 and Pagulayan secured a narrow lead he managed to protect to remain undefeated 9-7 over Martel. Beardy and Martel then crossed cues to gain the honor of facing Pagulayan in the finals.
Martel shone in this match. His enormous break provided him with easy clearances and his amazing touch kept Beardy locked up with safeties that had the crowds gasping. When Martel was through, he had dominated Beardy 9-4 and was energized to begin the rematch with Pagulayan.
Our final was between these two giants of the game. A former World Champion against a former World semi-finalist. Martel had a statement to make and he shouted it out early, taking a 5-0 lead in the race to eleven game final that kept Pagulayan seated while the crowd enjoyed the pool display put on by Martel, nicknamed ‘the Dancing Bear’ for his animated style of play.
When Martel finally suffered a dry break shot Pagulayan came to the table and went to work. Amazingly, he matched the efforts put forth by Martel and soon tied the match at five games apiece. Martel then won a safety battle between the two and claimed his sixth rack, but that would be all the masterful Pagulayan would allow. From there it was all Alex. He won the next rack via the three-foul rule by sewing the cue ball up tightly time and again. Then he simply played his game and took the next five racks on the trot to claim the title.
Tour Director Jim Wych wishes to thank title sponsor Stan James as well as tournament hosts Ken Botham and Rob Blair and their staff at Bigwig Billiards in Newmarket, Ontario. Other tour sponsors to whom he extends his gratitude include Canada Billiard and Bowling, Simonis cloth, Aramith Billiard Balls.
The next stop will find the Stan James Tour at The Q Club in Edmonton, Alberta October 13-15.