By Matt Cannizzaro and Jason Pinter
USBC Communications

LAS VEGAS - Tom Hammack of Jenks, Okla., almost missed his chance to compete in the 2009 USBC Open Championships when snow in the Denver area delayed his flight into Las Vegas, but luckily, he was able to make it to Cashman Center in time to bowl doubles and singles Monday.

Hammack hit the tournament lanes with one goal, which was to post his personal-best score at the Open Championships. With some advice from his teammates, who bowled their team event Sunday night, the 50-year-old right-hander was able to strike his way to a career-high series and into a tie for the Classified Singles lead with 679.

"I wanted to come in here and bowl the best I could do," said Hammack, who made his fifth Open Championships appearance. "I never look at the leaderboards when I come here, especially today. All I had coming into tonight was what the guys were telling me about the lanes in team event."

Hammack started the night off slowly with a 449 series in doubles, but things clicked as he started singles with three consecutive strikes. After games of 199 and 215, he struck 11 times, including his last eight shots, for a 265 finale. He is tied with Dennis Tomhave of Vermillion, S.D.

"I finally found my mark, and everything was working," Hammack said. "I didn't know I could take the lead, but I knew I needed the last strike for a 265."

Before the final ball was rolled, Hammack felt some nerves come over him, but he still didn't know what the leading score was.

"I wasn't nervous until the last ball," said Hammack, whose previous high series at the Open Championships was a 585 singles effort at the 2006 event in Corpus Christi, Texas. "I stepped back and took some deep breaths. No one told me what first place was or what I needed. No one said a word, and that's the best thing they could've done."

After he finished his game and his teammates informed him on what he just did, Hammack got pretty excited.

"It really hasn't sunk in yet, but I'm so excited," Hammack said. "I can't believe I'm in first place at nationals."

With a 1,128 all-events total thus far, Hammack will try to find a team looking for a substitute so he can get all nine games in.

Presenting sponsors for the 2009 USBC Open Championships are the Coast Casinos in Las Vegas and the Eldorado Hotel Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Circus Circus in Reno, Nev. Other participating sponsors are Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Brunswick, capital equipment supplier; Storm Products, Inc.; Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel and Four Queens Hotel and Casino, the official brackets sponsors; Sapphire Gentleman's Club; Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino; MGM Mirage; Jerry's Nugget Casino and Fitzgerald's Casino and Hotel.