Five of the seven AOYs in the Elite era won at least one tournament in the season they captured the crown. VanDam won twice in 2008 and Reese did the same in 2010. Only Reese in 2009 and VanDam in 2011 finished the season without a trophy, and both of them had a second place finish that year.
Under the current Elite scoring system, the difference between first and second is only a single point, so winning isn’t as valuable as it was before 2012. Nevertheless, in your club or circuit scoring system, the difference between a win and a runner-up finish might be considerable — perhaps even more than the margin between AOY and the second place finisher.
Take home the trophy when you’re in contention … but remember that when you’re not in contention, you need to mitigate damages and collect as many points as you can.
Vince Lombardi was not a bass angler. When he said “Winning isn’t everything … it’s the only thing,” he wasn’t talking about tournament fishing. A tournament angler in search of AOY should change it to “Winning isn’t everything, but I'll take it when I can.”
Realistically, even an AOY is going to have a letdown somewhere along the way. A key seems to be when he has it. Have it too early and it gets the entire season off on the wrong foot. Bomb in the first tournament and you may find yourself pressing in the next. Pretty soon, one bad tournament snowballs into three … or four … or a full season.
Have the bad tournament late and you get run down like a fatigued marathoner within sight of the finish line. There are almost always a few competitors within striking distance if the leader has a bad day at the last event. The more there are, the more likely one can step up and take it away.
In Elite history, the eventual AOYs were uncanny in this timing element. None of them had their worst tournament in the first event … or the second … or even the third. They started strong.
Likewise, none of them had their worst showing in the last tournament. And only one had his worst finish in the penultimate event. That was Skeet Reese in 2009 when his worst was 29th at the Mississippi River. It was the best “worst” in AOY race history.
If your worst is going to be that good, you can have it anytime you want. Otherwise, sandwich it somewhere in the middle.