AOY: Crowded at the top

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Pat Golden entered the AutoZone Sooner Run in 63rd place in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings, not mathematically eliminated from qualifying for his first Bassmaster Classic appearance, but a long shot at best.

Thanks to his current position in second place in the tournament, Golden has risen to 43rd overall and is potentially only a day away from the best Elite Series finish of his career. Depending on how he fares Saturday and possibly Sunday he might move up a little, but it's likely too little too late to make it to the promised land of New Orleans.

Even if he doesn't win it all or qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, he has still the chance to play spoiler. For every contending angler he pulls ahead of in the tournament, it knocks that contender back in the season-long standings.

Tommy Biffle is apparently leaving as little to the vagaries of others' performances as possible. He weighed in a little over a pound less than he did Thursday, but with 38-4 total he's still over two pounds ahead of Golden and over five pounds ahead of the 13th-place angler Davy Hite.

On the strength of these first two days, Biffle has moved up to eighth place in the TTBAOY, up from a four-way tie for 17th, but those who occupied the top spots before the tournament began haven't ceded their territory without a fight. Ten of the top 12 prior to the tournament are still alive to fish Day Three and four of them — Skeet Reese, Cliff Pace, Kevin VanDam and Gary Klein — are in the top nine on the scoresheet.

The only two members of last week's top 12 who will not have a chance to improve their stead Saturday are Bill Lowen and Brian Snowden, who finished 59th and 80th here and have moved down to 19th and 13th respectively on the TTBAOY list.

A third angler who was in danger of making a similar slide, John Crews, rebounded from his 6-14 catch on Day One to weigh in the biggest bag of the day on Day Two, a 20-01 limit that kept him alive for another day and pushed him back up from 16th to seventh in the TTBAOY race overnight, only two spots lower than he was when the tournament began.

Among those who were on the outside of the top 12 looking in heading into Muskogee, Biffle of course has risen the highest. Dave Wolak and Jeff Kriet both missed the money cut and will not be heading to Alabama. Russ Lane (15th heading into this tournament), Mark Davis (tied for 17th) and Todd Faircloth (also tied for 17th) are all in the top 20 in this event.

Normally that might be enough to propel an angler into the top 12 overall, but unless one distinguishes himself and one or two of the others fail, at least one of the three will likely have a strong final event but come up a bit short with respect to the postseason.

Lane settled at 10th in the TTBAOY Friday, down from seventh Thursday, but still inside the postseason cut.

Davis is in 14th and Faircloth is tied for 15th with Mike McClelland. McClelland had risen to 12th after Day One but fell back three spots when he followed up his catch of 19-8 with only 13-5 on Friday.

Thirteen of the top 47 anglers on the leaderboard posted weights within a pound of their Day One catch, and another eight had catches that were within two pounds of what they posted. Consistently good weights are of course desirable, but every angler in the current top 11 has produced at least one 17-pound plus bag so far. The big points will come to those who can do it at least once more.

Skeet Reese posted a 17-5 limit and moved up to ninth on Friday, extending his lead over Edwin Evers (38th, 13-11) in the AOY race from 110 points to 127 points. The results are unofficial until the event is completed.

Cliff Pace weighed in 14-4 Thursday and found himself in 32nd, but with the addition of 19-15 he vaulted into fourth place in the tournament and moved a notch to fourh in the TTBAOY race. His catches have been nearly the mirror image of those produced by Russ Lane, who had 19-10 then 14-6 and sits one place and 3 ounces behind Pace.

Those ounces, and the points they represent, could prove to be critical for Lane, who desperately wants to fish the postseason near his Alabama home, where he might experience some of the homefield advantage that Biffle is enjoying this week. As noted above, he fell three places and sits 46 points ahead of 13th place.

Derek Remitz, who was third in the TTBAOY race heading into this tournament, didn't fall, despite the fact that his Day One 12-13 had him in 43rd place. But with 17-2 Friday, he moved back up into the top 20 and added a bit more glue to his hold on the postseason. He remains in third.

Kevin VanDam switched places with Pace on the TTBAOY standings, He entered the tournament in eighth overall, moved up to fourth then fell back to fifth Friday. For the day, Reese extended his lead on VanDam by five points.

Thursday's lone mover from outside the Classic cut into the big dance was Jared Lintner, whose 18-5 saw him climb from 39th to 30th. He followed that stellar limit with only four fish for 7-8 Friday and fell back to 45th in the tournament and 39th in the TTBAOY race. He'll have another day to fish and possibly recoup the 22 points that separate him from 37th place.

Paul Elias, who has put two 15-pound limits on the scales this week, climbs into the cut spot at 37th. Kelly Jordon, who occupied that spot heading into the tournament, moved up two spots to 35th.

While Jordon, who finished the AutoZone Sooner Run in 49th, did not qualify to fish Saturday and must now depend on others to make sure he goes to New Orleans as a competitor, Elias is alive and can make a move Saturday.

Davy Hite is aiming for some last-minute heroics to bring him to the Classic stage. He entered this tournament in 55th in the TTBAOY, rose to 41st and maintained that position, 53 points out of 37th place overall.

Like Elias, he's caught almost exactly the same weight both days — his 16-5 and 16-7 sacks have him in 13th but absent a monumental charge toward the top it's unlikely he can make up the necessary points. Like Golden, he may have had too much space to make up despite a stellar final regular season event.

It's bass fishing's version of musical chairs — but no one is straying too far from their seats.