Jason Belmonte led the march Friday night into Sunday’s five-man finals for the Players Championship, but it was the battle for fifth that kept the crowd at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl on the edge.

Connor Pickford won the spot when 10-time major winner Pete Weber left three pins standing on his second roll in the 10th frame of the final game, the 40th of the week. It wasn’t as much about Pickford’s charge as it was Weber’s leave, but Pickford, a North Carolina native, rejoiced nonetheless.

“My thought going into that last game was just bowl the best game that I can,” said Pickford, who had strolled to the far end of the lanes following game 39 after missing a couple of makeable spares. A couple of confidantes told him to “put it out of my head, and that’s what I did. That’s what gave me the motivation to make the best shots possible.”

Australian Belmonte, Texan Anthony Simonsen, Swede Martin Larsen and rookie A.J. Chapman of Kansas were the top four, in that order, going into the final game, and stayed that way as Pickford joined the Sunday lineup for the stepladder finals (1 p.m. on ESPN) of the first major of the year.

Simonsen, 20, who in 2016 took the USBC Masters to become the youngest winner, at 19, of a Pro Bowlers Association major event, didn’t start out this tournament like he was gunning for another major victory. He was 72nd after the first day.

“You can have a bad block; it happens,” Simonsen said. “As they say, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

He’s been barreling along since taking on the philosophy of when in doubt, air it out. A two-hander like Belmonte, Simonsen went to his fling game after the slow start, stepping to the far left and launching his ball often 10 feet or more down the lane, aiming to the right to help defeat the oil pattern headed into the hook zone.

“I enjoy doing it, it’s fun to do,” Simonsen said of the tactic.

Belmonte, 33, who averaged 231.23 over the 40 games, thrived with it this week. He has 12 PBA wins, but none since 2015 when won the series player of the year for the third straight time, and he was fired up every day this week.

“That’s my mindset. Every time I step onto the lanes, it’s a new day,” Belmonte said. “You can’t dwell on what happened before, good or bad.”

He said his resolve also was buoyed by the strong crowds at the South High Street facility, especially Friday night.

“I think most players will tell you when a bowling center is full, it makes a difference, which I would like to congratulate Wayne Webb and his staff with the work they’ve done this week,” Belmonte said. “Anytime you have a big crowd, you feed off that.”

The fans cheered vigorously in the first game of his eight-game set Friday night when he shook off a shaky start and salvaged it with three straight strikes to close out a 227.

“The crowd here is so supportive, you hear them clap when someone converts a tough split, or a strike at a critical time,” Belmonte said. “We love it when it gets out here and the crowd is cheering their favorites.”