There are just two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments left in the 2011 season, and the race for Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year is a tight one. No less than 10 anglers are within reach of the leader, Florida pro Terry Scroggins.
One reason the race is so tight this year is that no one has seized control and run off to hide from the others — like Skeet Reese did so impressively in 2010. Scroggins' 1,490 AOY points at this stage of the season is the second lowest ever for a leader (Mike McClelland led at this stage in 2008 with 1,475).
That doesn't bode well for Big Show (Scroggins). Lots of guys are still within striking distance of his modest lead. Four anglers are within 100 points and five more are within 150 points. Most of them will fall by the wayside at the Arkansas River, but some won't. And, if Scroggins stumbles, one of them will be there to pick up the lead and grab the AOY trophy.
With apologies to Las Vegas, let's take a look at the odds. Remember, they're not designed to predict the likelihood of a particular winner, but to level out the betting among the contestants.
Terry Scroggins — 2-to-1 (our leader)
Nothing against Big Show, but he's never been in this position so late in the season. His best finish was third in 2005, when only Aaron Martens and Marty Stone were still in contention going into the final day. The high, muddy water the Elites will face on the Arkansas River is a far cry from what Scroggins is accustomed to at home on the St. Johns. He finished third on Wheeler in 2008, but 88th two years ago. He can't afford a misstep now.
Alton Jones — 5-to-2 (19 points behind)
Jones has been close before, including a bridesmaid's finish in 2003 when Jay Yelas took AOY. He's been mediocre on both the Arkansas River and Wheeler Lake in just a handful of previous appearances and will have to do better to claim his first AOY. He's blinked at the finish line in a couple of close calls over the years, but there's no question he has the talent and drive to win. He wants an AOY title to bookend his Classic trophy from 2008, but sometimes desire breeds desperation rather than success.
Kevin VanDam — 3-to-2 (19 points behind)
Yes, he's the favorite despite being tied for second place with two events to go, and why not? He's the best in the game and riding a string of successes that the bass fishing world has never seen before. He was 11th on the Arkansas River in 2006 (but in a field of just 50) and 2nd on Wheeler in 2008. The footsteps that Scroggins and Jones hear should scare them plenty. KVD is coming!
Edwin Evers — 5-to-1 (53 points behind)
Most people who follow the sport believe Evers is going to win something big (AOY or a Classic) one of these days, and I agree. This year, however, he's already more than 50 points off the pace and chasing some serious angling talent. Save your betting money and wait until next year. He's been pretty good on Wheeler, but will need to move into the top two or three after the Arkansas River to have a realistic chance at the title.
Steve Kennedy — 7-to-1 (98 points behind)
One of the great natural anglers in the game, Kennedy tends to do better when he controls his own schedule and avoids distractions. That's why he's struggled in the Bassmaster Classic and why this AOY race might be tough for him. When it looked like he'd move into the mix at Lake Murray, he finished 60th. He has all the skills and intellect (he's absolutely one of the brightest anglers in the Elites), but needs to find the right temperament. If he can do that, look out!
Davy Hite — 10-to-1 (112 points behind)
Hite is an underrated all-time great of the sport and already has two AOY trophies at home, so he certainly has the skills. At this point in his career — having already climbed all the mountains — the only question is his drive. Is he hungry enough to mount one more charge? KVD manages it, year after year, but he's chasing history and the record books. Can Hite take a page from his buddy's book and claim a third AOY crown? We'll find out soon enough.
Ott DeFoe — 12-to-1 (114 points behind)
He's hands-down the best rookie since Bobby Lane (2008) and has already established his place among the Elites. Nevertheless, taking down AOY as a rookie is something that no one has done in 11 years (Tim Horton, 2000). DeFoe is the wildcard in the field. Since he's new, he's hard to evaluate. He's got the chops, but we've never seen him under this sort of pressure. If there's an interesting long shot in this race, it's Ott DeFoe.
Fred Roumbanis — 13-to-1 (117 points behind)
Will the real Fred Roumbanis please stand up? After solid performances in 2007 and 2008 (12th and 18th, respectively, in the AOY race), he slipped to 41st and a dismal 82nd in 2009 and 2010. Boom-Boom is one of the most likeable anglers on the tour, but his track record makes him something of an enigma. He's got talent and experience, but can he close it out from more than 100 points back? The odds makers (i.e., me) think he's a long shot.
Casey Ashley — 15-to-1 (120 points behind)
We all know he's good, but Casey Ashley's never challenged for a title as big as this. His best finish in AOY history was 24th place back in 2009. He probably needs to win one of the last two events to have a shot, and that'll be really tough to do.
Chris Lane — 20-to-1 (137 points behind)
Nothing against Chris — he's a heckuva fisherman — but he's 137 points back and would have to leapfrog nine other guys to get to the finish line first. For that reason, I don't like his chances.