2007 Elite Series: Champion's Choice

Elite Series: Champion's Choice Day AOY implications

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — As Timmy Horton walked along the dock to his boat before Day Four of the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra, Skeet Reese called to him from the deck of his own boat.

 "Timmy," Reese called to the tournament leader, "go out there and whack 'em. Don't do it just barely. Go out there and crush another 24 (pounds) and make everyone else look stupid."

 From sixth place, Reese could afford to be so magnanimous — with a 9-pound, 13-ounce lead on second-place Steve Kennedy, Horton will be virtually untouchable. But even without a win on Lake Champlain, Reese is almost certain to have accomplished what looked unlikely a week ago.

 After fumbling away the lead in the Angler of the Year points race to Kevin VanDam at Grand Lake last month, the Californian may reclaim the lead just one tournament later, and in northern waters, no less, where the Michigander VanDam is considered most formidable.

 But VanDam never was able to duplicate the smallmouth bites he got in practice and finished all the way back in 27th on Champlain. Even if Reese can only maintain his current position, he and VanDam will head into the final three Elite Series events of the season in a virtual tie. (The two Major events won't affect those standings.)

 "It's pretty impressive, because Kevin is the best on these northern waters," said Shaw Grigsby, who sits in eighth after three days. "For Skeet to hang with him and get his points back here is awesome.

 "Kevin's the greatest angler we've ever seen in bass fishing, and he proves it every day on the water. Skeet's motivated — when you beat VanDam, you beat the best. This (winning AOY) would be his greatest accomplishment."

 For his part, Reese said he was simply glad to be in position to overtake VanDam. Before VanDam's win on Grand Lake, Reese had held the AOY points lead through four straight tournaments. While he's still looking for his first Elite Series victory, VanDam has two this year. While he's reaching for his first AOY title, VanDam has three in his career.

 "I'm glad he lost (fish this week)," Reese said. "He's human. He's no different from the rest of us. He has good days and bad days."

 And you could hardly ask for an angler to be more consistent than Reese when he's on. He missed the 50-angler cut in the two events VanDam has won; in the other six events, he has finished between second and ninth, and that doesn't include his second-place finish at the Bassmaster Classic in February.

 He deflects the suggestion that the AOY is a two-man race with three events remaining. Before the Champion's Choice, third-place Jared Lintner was nearer to Reese than Reese was to VanDam."I want someone to come up and put some pressure on Lintner," Reese said. "He's flying under the radar."

 One angler who could have done just that is Fred Roumbanis, currently in fourth on Champlain. But his showing at the Sooner Run illustrates how volatile the AOY points race can be.

 Just weeks after he won $250,000 in the Major in Greensboro, N.C., Roumbanis returned to his home state, Oklahoma, and finished in 95th on Grand Lake. His problem, he said Sunday, was that he fished the lake too heavily in the weeks leading up to the event and wound up fishing his history.

 For his lousy finish, he slid from fourth in the AOY standings to 11th. Aside from Reese, he's the highest in the AOY points among the dozen anglers still fishing on Champlain. He may not threaten for the ultimate title, but he's on the way to finishing 2007 as the most improved angler on the tour."After last year, I re-evaluated everything," he said. "I work a lot harder now."The tight AOY standings reminded Marty Stone of the nip-tuck race he lost to Aaron Martens on the last weekend of the 2005 season.

 "What really made it fun for me was, when you're fishing that well, you start doing things that you can't explain," Stone said. "Everything flows and everything's perfect."While he predicted that Reese-VanDam could grow into a two-man contest, he also said that he "wouldn't count out from about ninth place down," adding that Lintner makes the best dark horse candidate of the group.Asked how the AOY race would affect his daily tournament strategies, VanDam said Saturday that it wouldn't."I try to win 'em all," he said. "Every one. You have to take chances. And it'll bite you some times."And what if he needs only a few pounds in some later tournament to secure some key points?"I'm not satisfied with smaller fish," VanDam said.

 Editor's note: Check in daily during the tournament for live video of the weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard at 3 p.m. ET Thursday through Saturday. ESPNOutdoors.com will air Hooked Up, the live Internet shows, on Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET on Sunday. The 45-minute Hooked Up show begins at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, leading into the final live weigh-in and a realtime leaderboard at 3:45 p.m. ET.

 

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