Stay or go?
The PBA Team League is over, but the stakes are high for players heading into the eighth and ninth legs of the individual tour. At the end of the year, players outside the top 60 in the ranking points have to worry about missing the first round.
There are only two individual tournaments left to make up points, the eighth in early February and the ninth in late February. The World Championship in March is a best-of-three event, so points are irrelevant. If you fall outside the top 60, you can still survive the cuts, but the top players will have their egos bruised.
Among the players looking to bounce back are Hana Card’s Kim Byung-ho, Hi One Resort’s Lee Chung-bok, and NH Card’s Oh Sung-wook.
Kim Byung-ho is the captain of Hana Card and recently celebrated by leading his team to the top of the Team League. However, in order to continue playing in the Team League next season, he will need to survive the Individual Tour.
Kim is tied for 68th in the points standings after accumulating 16,000 points in the first through seventh individual tours of the season. He can get out of trouble if he advances to the round of 32 or higher in the 8th and 9th individual tours. He survived Cusco last year and is riding high after winning the All-Han Team League, so he has a good chance of breaking into the top 60.
Lee Chung-bok, who made his debut this season as captain of Haiwon Resort, lost all of his matches in the round of 128 on the Individual Tour, leaving him at the bottom of the rankings with 3500 ranking points (115th). In his amateur days, Lee was known as ‘textbook billiards’, but it’s taking him a while to adjust to the Phoebe stage. While it’s great to play your own style, it’s been pointed out that sometimes you have to adapt your tactics to the 15-point set scoring system.
Oh Seong-wook, a former individual tour winner, has also played in team leagues, but his 12,000 individual tour ranking points (77th) put him in the relegation zone. He’s a very talented player, but he needs to work on his mental game.
Other Team League players are also at risk of relegation, including Huon’s Kim Bong-cheol (68th-16,000 points), Welcome Savings Bank’s Kim Im-kwon (68th-16,000 points), and Crown Hae-tae’s Kim Tae-kwan (90th-9500 points).
Coming back through the Kusukul is also not an easy task, as only 30 players qualify for the first division, while the remaining first division tickets are distributed to the top finishers of the second and third tours.
Among foreign players, Eswai’s Daniel Sanchez is 64th (17,500 points) and hovering at the bottom of the relegation zone, but his situation is different from that of domestic players because he can stay in the first division under the special rules of the Phoebe.
Commentator Kim Hyun-seok said, “The competition in the first division is really fierce. If you let your guard down even a little bit, you’ll lose ground. If you get relegated from the first division and go to coursework, it’s mentally taxing. The pros are a cold world where results speak for themselves. The team league is over, and now you have to fight tooth and nail on the individual tour to prove your worth.”