Fewer than 40 percent of respondents to a poolhistory.com poll predicted that the aging Strickland would win the match. He also was the underdog on various pool forums. One fan predicted that Van Boening would take such a commanding lead that Strickland would quit him early.
But it was not to be. Wearing absurd green ear muffs and bulky arm weights for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, Strickland plowed through rack after rack. He beat Van Boening soundly the first night, played him about even the second, and then ran over him again on Sunday.
Van Boening closed to within 7 games on that final night of play but then abruptly faded. His game and confidence seemed to have completely abandoned him by the end with unexpected misses, loose safeties and unforced scratches.
Stickland, by contrast, appears to be mounting a major career comeback. His game was top notch, his position play sharp. He nearly lost his cool after a few missed shots, but the notoriously volatile player never become so unhinged as to derail his overall game. The victory builds upon a second place finish in the Derby City One-Pocket division in January and last year's victory at the U.S. Bar Table 8-Ball championships.
Strickland does, however, appear to have become a bit more quirky with age. Besides donning the green ear muffs, Strickland also was wont to examine the racked balls with a small magnifying glass. He'd gesture to fans with it between games, proclaiming "that's a good rack!" Strickland also made use of massively long cue that looked more appropriate for pole vaulting than 10-ball. "It looks like a javelin," quipped one commentator for theactionreport.com, which sponsored the pay-per-view event.
But Strickland's victory was no laughing matter. The colorful Hall of Fame player is the only man alive to have won the prestigious U.S. Open Nine-Ball Championship on five separate occasions. Is there a sixth in the offing?
-- R.A. Dyer