Southern Open: What’s at stake?

It’s the last professional tournament of the 2012 Bassmaster Tournament Trail season. Before it, there was the Bassmaster Classic, eight Bassmaster Elite Series events, All-Star Week and eight other Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens.

So what’s the big deal about the third and final Southern Open on Alabama’s Smith Lake?

Quite a lot, actually.

Four Classic berths

For starters, there are several Bassmaster Classic berths up for grabs. Yes, we all know that the winner of this tournament is Classic bound … if he fished the other two Southern Opens on the Harris Chain (Florida) and Lake Norman (North Carolina), but as soon as Chris Lane and Tracy Adams launch on Friday, they punch their own tickets to the Classic via the Opens (Lane is also qualified as the defending Classic champ and through points in the Bassmaster Elite Series, where he ranked 14th). That’s two.

It’s good news not only to Lane and Adams, but also way out in California, where Elite angler Jared Lintner watches very closely to make sure Lane fishes. If Lane cements his berth via the Opens and thereby double qualifies for the Classic, Lintner is the big winner. Currently he’s on the bubble — the first man out of the Classic — but he’s in as soon as Lane launches on Friday. That’s three.

And Lintner may not be the last Elite to make the 2013 Classic. If one of the 11 Elite anglers who has already qualified for the Classic and who has fished the two previous Southern Opens can win on Smith, it’ll be Scott Rook doing most of the celebrating since he’ll suddenly earn a last-minute spot in the championship. That’s four.

And the winner is …

To qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through the Opens, you have to win and you have to fish all three in the division. One hundred sixty-three anglers fished the first two Southern Opens. Not all of them will be launching on Smith Thursday, but most of them will be there, hoping to fulfill a dream and get to the Classic.

Eleven Elite anglers who have already earned Classic berths have fished the first two Southern Opens. They fish them for a variety of reasons — as a safety-valve to qualify for the Classic, to re-qualify for the Elites or simply because they’re pro fishermen who compete in tournaments for a living.

The 11 are Brandon Card, Ott DeFoe, Aaron Martens, Ish Monroe, Brandon Palaniuk, Cliff Prince, Marty Robinson, Terry Scroggins, Gerald Swindle, Jonathon VanDam and David Walker. We’re not going to count Chris Lane here since he’s also qualified through the Opens and as the defending Classic champ.

Not all of those 11 will be fishing on Smith this week. They don’t need to; they’re already in. That’s good news for the other anglers in the field and bad news for Scott Rook.

To be Elite

The last big things at stake in the Smith Lake Open are five invitations to join the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series. They’ll go to the top five anglers in the Southern Open points standings. After two events, Clifford Pirch, Kevin Hawk, Jason Williamson, Greg Vinson and Kelly Jaye are in the lead to get those spots. Williamson and Vinson are already in the Elites, so those invitations would go down the Elite list to lower ranking Elite anglers who did not finish high enough to automatically re-qualify.

That’s a big deal, especially if you’re one of those Elite anglers who struggled in 2012 and want to return in 2013. It means another chance and a career reprieve. Those anglers will be rooting for Williamson and Vinson to hang in there.

Pirch and Hawk would be strong additions to the Elites. Pirch is a two-time WON Bass U.S. Open champion — he nearly won a third time this year — and Hawk was the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup champion. These guys have skills.

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