With just one event to go in the 2013 Elite Series season, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race is no longer a marathon. It's a sprint.
And just as you typically have dozens to thousands of runners in any marathon, sprints usually have just a few competitors. It's the same with the AOY race at this point.
What started with 100 anglers all chasing a dream, is now down to just eight — eight fishermen with a mathematical shot to win fishing's most prestigious title. Realistically, though, the number is actually much smaller. I'd put it at three.
Here are the eight — the top anglers in the AOY race through seven of eight events — and their point totals:
1. Edwin Evers - 594
2. Aaron Martens - 564
3. Kevin VanDam - 555
4. Bobby Lane - 535
5. Chris Zaldain - 521
6. Keith Combs - 518
7. Alton Jones - 502
8. John Crews - 501
While all eight have a mathematical shot at AOY, only Evers, Martens and VanDam have anything like a real chance to win the title. The rest need too many things to happen to get there. Think NFL playoffs going into the final weekend. John Crews is the Washington Redskins. He needs to win while the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants all lose and the Dolphins and Patriots end their season in a scoreless tie while neither quarterback throws a single pass ... and the stadium lights go out and they play under a full moon.
So for, Lane, Zaldain, Combs, Jones and Crews, 2013 has been a very good year, but it's time to focus on staying in the top eight rather than moving up. If they can maintain, they'll qualify for Toyota All-Star Week in September. All are a lead-pipe cinch to qualify for the 2014 Classic, even if they don't catch a fish in the final event. Combs is in by virtue of his Falcon win. The rest are in on points.
And Evers is in the driver's seat for AOY. It's not my favorite sports cliché, but he "controls his own destiny." As long as he finishes in the top 30, no one can catch him and he'll claim his first AOY title.
He's had a remarkable year, too. Not only did he win an event (on the Alabama River), but he's never finished worse than 30th all year long. How special is that?
Well, the only angler ever to do it before (in the Elite era — 2006-13) was Skeet Reese in 2009 (his worst finish was 29th) ... and he didn't win AOY! Reese stumbled in the postseason and Kevin VanDam was there to pick up the crown.