SYRACUSE, N.Y. — There have been only four of these Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments labeled "Majors," with a $250,000 first-place prize. But two previous winners will be in the field of 12 Saturday when the Bassmaster Memorial presented by Evan Williams Bourbon moves into its next-to-last day.
Those two men are Peter Thliveros, who won the first Bassmaster Memorial at Fort Worth, Texas, in 2006, and Dave Wolak, who won the Bassmaster American last July in Charlotte, N.C.
Although the other 10 finalists have ample professional bass fishing resumes, no one has ever had a chance to win half-a-million dollars with only two tournament victories that didn't include a Bassmaster Classic.
After two days of competition on Oneida Lake, the Memorial moves to a "hole course" format on Onondaga Lake for the final two days. All 12 anglers start with a clean slate. The top six will advance to Sunday's final.
"That's the best thing about this (format)," said Thliveros, the 47-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., resident. "We all start at zero (Saturday). Everybody has no clue about this lake."
That's not quite true. Although Onondaga, which covers 4.6 square miles, has been off limits to fishing for the tournament anglers, they were allowed to look over the lake during practice time earlier this week, if they chose to. Thliveros was confident enough in his patterns on Oneida that he took about a four-hour peek at Onondaga on Wednesday.
"I rode the lake mainly just to take a look and see what's available for me to fish, and it worked out pretty well," said Thliveros, who jumped from 19th place Thursday to sixth place Friday with a 15-pound, 10-ounce limit and a 29-7 two-day total. "I was just fortunate I was able to do that.
"Maybe I have an upper hand, and maybe I don't. Looking at it, you have an advantage. But without fishing it, you really don't know."
The other 11 anglers took advantage of every extra minute they had Friday to take a look at Onondaga. But the two-day competition at Oneida was so tight, no one else dared look as far ahead as Thliveros did.
"I've heard it's got good largemouth and good smallmouth in it," said Skeet Reese, who had 17-7 Friday to qualify in fourth place overall. "I think it will probably take 17 or 18 pounds a day to have a good shot at winning.
"It's go big or go home."
Thliveros and Wolak have a shot to go half-a-million big.