GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Sliding in the back door of the 39th Bassmaster Classic isn't exactly the way Mark Menendez wants to get into the championship, but if he does, he'll gladly make the trip to the Red River in February.
The longtime Kentucky pro is third on the Elite Series list of anglers who failed to make the Classic cut for the tournament Feb. 20-22 in Shreveport, La. The top 36 earned berths based on the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points standings.
The top three in points in the Open circuits earn Classic berths, and any Elite Series double-qualifiers earn their Classic spot through those. If that happens, the next Elite Series pro on the TTBAOY list moves up.
Several Elite pros will be anxiously watching the final Southern Open on Guntersville Lake this week, hoping for a miracle of sorts. They're the bubble guys, next on the points list with a chance to move up, including Rick Clunn of Missouri (38th), Rick Morris of Virginia (39th), Menendez and Derek Remitz of Alabama (40th).
Peter Thliveros of Florida leads the Southern Open standings, trailed by fellow Elite Series pros Terry Scroggins of Florida and Aaron Martens of Alabama. Bobby Lane of Florida, already qualified for the Classic, is in ninth place and could add a twist.
Menendez knows his chances are slim, but he's seen stranger things.
"Just for the sake of discussion, let's count Peter and Terry in — that leaves me as first out," he said. "But Clunn is seventh in the Central Open points and I know he will be motivated at their final event, because he's said he wants to make the Classic through the Central standings and not the back door.
"Plus, I know he'll be motivated because it's on Texoma. One of the very few times I've ever seen him make a mental mistake was at Texoma years ago, a long time ago, when he had a huge bag the first day, but was late to check-in and it evaporated his catch. He would have won the tournament going away — so I know he'll have a little personal thing to get off his chest."
Pipe dream? Maybe. Two spots are seemingly a given, probably this week on Guntersville, but a third? Could Menendez be the last guy in and Remitz the odd man out?
It's possible. Menendez is hoping for anything that can help him.
"The other scenario is Bobby Lane is ninth in the standings and at Guntersville, there's grass involved," he said. "He's as good as it gets in grass. I don't know what's going to happen, but we'll know a little more after this weekend."
Menendez has been in this situation before: He last qualified for a Classic in 2006 at Lake Toho. He missed out last February on Lake Hartwell by one spot. Just one. He knows the feeling.
"Here I sit again," he said. "I have beaten myself up and can go back to see the exact fish that cost me this year and last year."
It's not just fish or decisions on the water Menendez says has kept him in the respectable high 30s in the standings — good enough for some anglers, but not those who strive to make the championship.
"I think it's a number of things that have been distractions, including not being as physically fit during the second half of the season," he said. "But primarily to me, it's being away from my children and family.
"With [my] being a lifelong bachelor until four years ago, I had no responsibilities of a wife and children. But I want so badly to uphold the things I know to provide with my career — to secure what they need for their lives — more than anything.
"I love being a dad — gymnastics, dance, art classes at home, are harder on me mentally than anything else. This is my career, but being gone from them has been something I've had to deal with, too."
So, this week Menendez will be watching the standings from Guntersville each day to see who's moving up and down, and he'll be one step closer to knowing if he'll once again be on the outside looking in.