SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Todd Faircloth finally missed a top-50, two-day cut on the Bassmaster Elite Series this season. And it couldn't have come at a worse time for him.
When Faircloth weighed in only 6 pounds, 6 ounces Friday on Day Two of the Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide, it allowed Kevin VanDam to claim the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Separated by only 4 ounces after Day One, VanDam rallied with 13-1 to make the top-50 cut with a two-day total of 23-14, and Faircloth finished in 93rd place with 16-15. That was sufficiently more than enough for VanDam to overcome the 21-point lead Faircloth had entering this final event of the season.
Faircloth had made every two-day cut in the previous 10 tournaments this season; VanDam had notched two Elite Series victories this year. But ultimately the TTBAOY title came down to survival on Oneida Lake this week.
"I can't believe it," said VanDam, who was in 59th place in the standings here Thursday. "I knew this week would be critical, and Todd has not had a bad tournament all year.
"I was really disappointed yesterday. I thought I'd blown it. I knew when I got a second chance, I had to make it happen."
The 33-year-old Faircloth has admittedly felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders the last two weeks. It only multiplied over the last two days.
"It's just been physically and mentally draining," Faircloth said. "I wake up thinking about it. I go to sleep thinking about it.
"It has taken a toll on me, my wife and my family. There's a lot of pressure there.
"I'm glad it's over with, but I'm sorry I didn't win it. I feel like I really had a legitimate shot at it this week, and I just didn't get it done."
After the Monday-through-Wednesday practice sessions, Faircloth felt good about his chances. He'd passed VanDam in the standings with a sixth-place finish at Lake Erie last Sunday and entered this event with that 21-point lead in the TTBAOY standings.
During practice at Oneida, Faircloth found some deeply-positioned smallmouth and caught some 3- and 4-pound fish in that area. But once the storms rolled in Thursday, they wouldn't bite — and Faircloth had to switch to a shallow-water largemouth bass pattern to rally with a five-bass limit in the last two hours.
Friday, he couldn't even find those deep smallmouth on his electronics, so enticing them to bite wasn't an option. Nothing he caught shallow was big enough to make a difference, even though he weighed in a limit.
"I can't explain where those fish went," said the Jasper, Texas, native. "If they would have been there, I think the outcome of this tournament would have been a little different.
"Once those deep fish were gone, I was really kind of lost out there. I couldn't get comfortable doing anything else I tried."
This marks the 40-year-old VanDam's fourth BASS Angler of the Year title, but his first since 1999. He finished second to Skeet Reese last year and third to Mike Iaconelli in 2006, which was the first season of the Elite Series.
"This is the best of the best," said VanDam, in ranking this TTBAOY title above the other three on his lengthy list of accomplishments. "The top guys in the sport all-time that have ever competed are competing in this series.
"I can tell you the competition today is much stronger than it was even just a handful of years ago."
VanDam was approaching the $3 million mark in career BASS winnings prior to Friday. The prize money for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title doubled from last year to $250,000 — which easily put the Kalamazoo, Mich., native past the previously-unsurpassed milestone in professional bass fishing.
"This sport is so much different than what the average non-fishing person realizes," VanDam said. "How physical it is, how much knowledge you have to have, and how mental it is.
"People think of golf as a mental sport. To me, fishing is a lot more mental than golf."
All you had to do was see the tears welling in Todd Faircloth's eyes as he patiently addressed the media backstage Friday to realize the mental strain he had been under this week. His $100,000 second-place check will likely help ease the pain.
But that wouldn't be nearly enough to keep the tears from flowing when Faircloth, his wife, Angie, and their two sons finally spend some time together without that Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year outcome hanging over their heads.
"They're my biggest fans," Faircloth said. "They wanted to see me win this more than I did."