Tight race on Championship Sat.

As the final day of the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open No. 2 unspools before us, it’s interesting to note that three of the anglers fishing in today’s final round also made the Top-12 cut at the first Southern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes back in January.

One member of that trio, Florida pro John Cox, entered today’s final day of competition with more than a 3-pound led on Hunter Shryock, who was another member of that trio to make the Top 12 on the Harris Chain. The others is Justin Lucas, who is in ninth place and nearly 12 pounds behind Cox, who leads the way with 47 pounds, 13 ounces.

On just about every other body of water we visit throughout the year, a 12-pound lead is about as insurmountable as it sounds. Imagine – that’s two hefty 6-pounders. Those are two bass that are going to make any angler’s day a whole lot better in a hurry.

But here on Chickamauga Lake, 6-pounders are almost routine. I know, I know. It’s almost unfair to say that a 6-pound beauty of a bass is an afterthought. But when you witness the 8, 9, 10, and even 11-pounders we’ve seen this week, it’s proof that anything can happen as the final hours of the second Southern Open of the season tick away.

If consistency in big tournaments (read: the Southern Opens) is any guide, it would stand to figure that this is a battle between Cox and Shryock (who entered second with a 44-5 total.) But when you look at the list of guys behind that duo (especially the men in third, fourth, and fifth place,) you might as well throw all theories out the window.

Shaw Grigsby Jr. entered Saturday with nearly a 5 ½ pound deficit behind Cox. If the sun shines and the seasoned Elite Series pro can find bedding bass again today, Grigsby could blow things open. So could Ish Monroe, who is another long-time Elite, who sits in fifth place with 40 pounds even.

I think the wildcard in this tournament is the hometown favorite – Michael Neal. He lives in Dayton, Tennessee, and he knows the lake better than anyone in the field. During the first two days of the tournament, it sounds like he sat offshore and waited for transitioning bass to swim to him from bank to offshore structure. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working, and Neal sits in a very comfortable fourth place with 41 pounds even.

What stands out most to me about Neal’s results so far is that he hasn’t caught anything heavier than a 5-pounder all week. If good fortune shines upon him and he can boat one of those monster bass we’ve seen cross the weigh-in stage this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if Neal is the man punching a ticket to the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

Of course, that’s just one man’s hunch. Because like I said, this is one of those fisheries where anything can happen.

So if you can’t be at the Bass Pro Shops location in East Ridge, Tenn. at 3:45 p.m. EST today for the weigh-in, be sure you’re on Bassmaster.com to catch the action streaming straight to your computer or mobile device, wherever you may be.

It should be a fantastic finish!

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