Saez goes undefeated to capture 38th Annual Texas Open

There were five former champions among the full field of 128 entrants, on hand for the $3,200-added, 38th Annual Texas Open at Skinny Bob's Billiards in Round Rock, TX, held from September 2-5 this year. Only two of them -  three-time winner Jeremy Jones ('94, '02, '03) and two-time winner David Gutierrez ('00, '05) made it to the final 12. Those two got locked up in a double hill battle among the winners' side final eight, which sent Jones west and Gutierrez into a final four match against the eventual, undefeated winner, Robb Saez.

C.J. Wiley, who went back-to-back in '96 and '97, dropped his opening match to John Moore, double hill, and won four on the loss-side before falling to Chip Compton. Sylver Ochoa, the '07 winner, fell in the same way; moving west on the heels of an opening round victory by Nick Tafoya and then winning four, before being shut out by Casey Crews. Last year's winner, Charlie "Hillbilly" Bryant, got through two on the winners' side, and then five in the west bracket, before, like Wiley, giving way to Chip Compton.

The two finalists, Saez and Joey Grey, made it to the hot seat match and finals, having faced only one former champion between them; the same one, Gutierrez. Saez was involved in some struggles early, including a third round, double hill battle against Jim Davis (who'd just sent his son, James Davis, Jr. west 9-1). Saez picked up some speed at that point, defeating Tracy Sanders and Sean Black, both 9-3, to move among the winners' side final four.

Grey's path went through four opponents, allowing them an average of five racks, and then defeated home town favorite Brian Sanders 9-2 to join Saez among the winners' side final four. He then sent Bernard Walker west 9-5 to face Saez in their first of two in the battle for the hot seat. Saez, in the meantime, had downed Gutierrez 9-2. Grey came into the hot seat battle, having given up no more than six racks over six matches (and that, only once). He gave up nine against Saez, and moved on to his semifinal matchup against Gutierrez.

Gutierrez had moved over to pick up Sanders, who'd defeated Kevin Guimond 9-7 and Tommy Tokoph 9-5 to reach him. Walker drew Benny Conway, who'd impressively downed, in order, Jeremy Jones and Chip Compton, both 9-3. Both battles for advancement to the quarterfinals went double hill, with Gutierrez dropping Sanders and Walker ending Conway's day. Gutierrez then made short work of Walker, defeating him 9-1 and as the last Texan and former champion standing, faced Grey in the semifinals.

Grey downed Gutierrez 9-6 and turned for his potential two-set final against Saez. They opened up by trading racks to a 2-2 tie, before Saez won three straight. Grey came back and won four in a row to go ahead by one at 6-5. Saez won two of the next three and at around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, they were knotted at 7. Saez reached the hill first, but Grey countered to force a 17th and deciding rack.
Grey broke that final rack and had himself an open table to play with. The 1-ball sat perched in a corner pocket, but looking for shape on the 2-ball, Grey over cut it and missed. Hope lay in its eventual position in a cluster of balls along the side rail. Saez calmly stepped to the table, banked the 1-ball, cross side, and then ran to the 8-ball, before electing to play safe, positioning the cue ball behind the 9-ball. 

Grey, though, with a narrow line of sight, attempted a bank shot that failed. Saez stepped to the table, sunk the 8-ball, and with a clear shot at the 9-ball, accepted Grey's proferred handshake to complete his undefeated weekend.

(The author would like to thank Michelle Abernathy for her observational and written assistance with the preparation of this report.)