FAIRLAWN, Ohio -- Mark McDowell said before the $300,000 Firestone Tournament of Champions yesterday that "I have to pinch myself to make sure all this is really happening to me."
Five hours later, his wife, Patti, rushed onto the lanes and pinched her husband after he had beaten Danny Wiseman of Dundalk, Md., and Don Genalo to win the most prestigious tournament in bowling, plus $60,000.
"This is incredible, the victory of my life . . . the day of my life," said McDowell, 29.
McDowell, a graduate of West Texas State, said his victory over Wiseman was his toughest mental hurdle ever.
"Anyone who hasn't been touched with the way Danny tried to win this title for his dying father has no heart," McDowell said. "I felt badly in a way that I had to beat Danny, but that's what I'm out here to do . . . win no matter what.
"I went up to Danny's father, Albert, hugged him and said, 'God bless you sir, Danny's a great bowler, and you should be very proud.' "
Wiseman was disappointed but said he had no regrets. "I bowled well, but Mark bowled better," he said. "I didn't beat myself, he beat me. My father is proud of me, and that's all that really matters.
"My father has terminal cancer, and they have given him only months to live," Wiseman said. "My driving force is to win again before he dies."
Wiseman gave it a great shot. In the quarterfinal match, he rolled nine strikes and beat Tony Westlake, 256-221. Against McDowell, Wiseman did everything but figure out how to kick out the 10 pin, especially in the decisive 10th frame.
After Westlake lost, he walked over to the older Wiseman's wheelchair, hugged him and whispered:
"Your son is a great bowler. I hope he wins."
From the way the crowd reacted during the semifinal match, everyone but Mark and Patti McDowell hoped the same thing.
But that didn't stop McDowell, who won the first tournament of the year and now leads the 1992 money chase with $115,000.
He put together a fine showing at Riviera Lanes, which has not always produced good scores for the national ABC telecast.
In the semifinal match against Wiseman, McDowell strung six strikes starting in the fifth frame to rally to a 248-235 victory.
In the championship match against Genalo, McDowell started with five strikes and coasted to a 223-193 victory and his fourth career title.
He played specially made tapes yesterday morning that told him he would win the Firestone. Now, he's going to start playing a tape that tells him he's going to be voted 1992 Player of the Year.
"I'm in my prime, bowling better than ever and more confident than ever," he said.
After yesterday's performance, no one wanted to debate the point.