Final morning shaping-up perfect

MANNING, S.C. — Three down and one to go.

 That's the approach Preston Clark is taking on the final day of the Santee Cooper Shootout presented by Motorguide — the third stop in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.

 Clark, who is from Palatka, Fla., has led this tournament since it began on Thursday. He jumped to the top of the leaderboard with a bag that weighed 39 pounds, six ounces — the third largest one-day total in the history of BASS — and followed with catches of 29-5 and 23-15. His three-day total of 92-10 is more than nine pounds heavier than his nearest competitor's catch and puts Clark precariously close to the record total for a four-day event (108-12 set by Dean Rojas in 2001 on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.)

 Mother Nature looks as if she's going to cooperate with Clark in his attempt to shatter that record and claim victory here. Though there was patchy fog over Santee Cooper Reservoir for Sunday's 7:15 a.m. launch, it quickly dissipated with the sun. Today's forecast calls for clear skies, temperatures in the mid 80s and only light wind. The combination is expected to provide ideal conditions for sight fishing — Clark's strength and the technique he's used to build his commanding lead.

 There's more bad news for the 11 anglers trying to catch up with Clark. He said he plans to fish an area Sunday morning that is holding a 7 pounder, two 8 pounders and another bass that could come in at 10 pounds.

 "If I can put two of those in the boat, I should be OK," Clark said. "Then I can go catch a couple of 5 pounders the rest of the day."

 Clark said winning the tournament is his top priority, but he acknowledged he would love to have the four-day catch record, as well. And if he can land each of the four bass he targets this morning, Clark hinted that Rojas' single day record of 45-2 may fall.

 "If I don't catch another fish, I've had a blast this week," Clark said. "But I'm excited about today. I think it's going to be an awesome day. The weather conditions are absolutely perfect. I'll have to do 25 pounds today to have a chance because these other guys are going to pick off some big fish. But I think 25 will secure it for me. I might do it with a little less, but that's my goal."

 California's Skeet Reese, on paper at least, has the best chance of catching Clark. Reese is in second place with 83 pounds, one ounce and is considered on of the tour's best sight fishermen. Tour rookie Steve Kennedy of Alabama is third with 83 pounds even. Kentucky's Kevin Wirth (80-12) and Florida's Terry Scroggins (79-14) round out the top-five anglers. Greg Hackney, Kelly Jordon, Rojas, John Crews, Aaron Martens, Mike Wurm and Bink Desaro complete the field.

 Each of the guys chasing Clark knows it's going to be difficult to do so, even under the best circumstances.

 "I have no expectations," Reese said. "I'm going to fish all new water today to get a few bites. If I find some great. If I don't find some, there's nothing I can do about it. But the conditions are going to be perfect today. It's just a matter of being able to line up big fish, whack a big bag and make a good show of it."

 Reese hopes he's the one that locates the lunkers Sunday.

 "I figure if I get lucky, catch 30 pounds and have a great finish, and maybe (Clark) loses all the big ones (then I can win)," Reese said. "You never know what happens. So I'll definitely be looking for big ones and hopefully I can get them to bite."

 Kennedy said win or lose, he was having an "awesome" time Sunday morning before takeoff. His expectations?

 "I've got a couple of goals," he said. "I need 17 pounds to make the Century Club (over 100 pounds). That's a pretty big deal. And what do I need, 25 and change to beat (Rojas') record? I've been averaging 27 or so. So there's a good opportunity to beat Dean's record. But then again, I'd like to win. But 10 pounds is a bunch to make up."

 Wirth said he'll target a 7 pounder this morning and move to a few other big fish he's seen directly across the channel from the boat launch.

 "My best chance to catch them is to sight fish," he said. "So I'm not changing anything there. It's just a matter of finding the right quality of fish."

 Scroggins grew up fishing with Clark in central Florida and knows him as well as anyone on tour. His prediction for the Santee Cooper Showdown?

 "I'm not going to bet against Preston," Scroggins said.

 With the kind of tournament Clark has put together to this point, that seems to be the growing consensus.

 Weigh-in is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. The winner will collect $100,000.

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