Contrast of styles sets the stage for final round drama

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Brenden Kanies

It’s not exactly a tortoise and hare allusion, but the James River has shown its dynamic nature by leading the top-3 finalists to Championship Saturday via different routes.

Second place Jeff Queen (eighth Day 1) and third-place Greg Alexander, who led Day 1, have mostly followed a diligent program of picking off good keepers. Meanwhile Day-2 leader Brandon Palaniuk capitalized on a specific late-day scenario that delivered the event’s heaviest limit — 22-6 — and elevated him from 50th to first, literally in the last hour of fishing.

Note: Do not read this as any assertion of luck.

With five Bassmaster Elite wins (two in 2020), Palaniuk is a proven closer who has mastered the grinders, as well as the fast-paced shoot-outs. The great ones adapt and play whatever game the fishery offers, but when golden opportunities arise, they know how to step on the gas.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see which scenario gets the job done today. Suffice it to say, that with less than 6 pounds separating first and tenth places, this derby is wide open.

The wild card: Big bites.

When you time the tide right, limits are pretty easy. You’re always looking for the upgrades, but every now and then, one of those Florida-strain giants decides to chew and the game changes with a single cast.

Just ask Kentucky pro Tommy Williams, who earned his final-round berth by gaining 126 spots from 135th to ninth after nabbing the event’s heaviest bass — an 8-7.

Williams, who won last year’s Central Open on Lewisville Lake, entered the final round 5-10 off the lead. If he can find a couple more giants today, he could be adding another trophy to his mantle.

So, we have the steady Eddies, the sudden flurries and the big bite heroes. Any of these could leverage good fortune for the win, but the choice is clear.

We’re going with …