Toyota Rookie of the Year race

KIMBERLING CITY, Mo. — With domination and steadfast desire, Auburn, Ala., CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series angler Steve Kennedy secured the Toyota Rookie of the Year title during the last tournament of the season — The Rock presented by TheraSeed on Table Rock Lake.

Kennedy — who will finish astonishingly more than 400 points ahead of California's Jared Lintner and Ohio's Bill Lowen — earned a $25,000 cash prize which bolsters his season earnings to just less than $200,000. Kennedy will total more than 2,500 Angler of the Year points this season.

"In my first year fishing BASS tournaments, I wasn't sure how I would compete against this level of competition," Kennedy said. "But I feel like I got all the right breaks and cashed in all of my opportunities. The year can definitely be considered a huge success."

Kennedy, 37, burst into the Rookie of the Year race in first place following the Elite Series' season-opener in March, where he placed fifth. He fell in the standings later that month after the Lone Star Shootout, but regained his top position with a fourth-place showing at the third event, the Santee Cooper Showdown presented by MotorGuide. Since then, Kennedy has kept a commanding lead in the race.

What was the secret to his success? "The schedule," he said. "Any tournament where I could get on a big-fish pattern, those suited my style and gave me a chance to contend."

Second-place Lintner, 32 years old and part of an emerging trend of successful West Coast anglers, said he is satisfied with his rookie season and should earn enough points with the conclusion of The Rock to qualify for the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala.

"I qualified for the Elite Series and felt if I didn't take the opportunity and fish now, I wouldn't get another chance," Lintner explained. "It has been an insane learning experience. I am learning how to catch fish all over the country and have added some new dimensions to my fishing arsenal."

If past Rookie of the Year recipients are any indication, Kennedy should secure his first BASS win sooner than later. Dave Wolak and Greg Hackney, winners of the award in 2005 and 2004 respectively, both won tournaments in 2006 and have firmly entrenched themselves in the upper-echelon of Elite anglers.

"It has been an awesome year," Kennedy said. "And I think I have an opportunity to win the Classic in February. I just love catching those Coosa River spots."