AOY Update: It's a race after all

There's just one tournament left in the regular season of the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series season, and there's a lot riding on it. At stake are 12 berths in the postseason next month in Montgomery, Ala., 37 berths in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic and untold dollars from sponsors that will make or break careers. This is what the BASS pros spend all year fighting for, and there's one battle left in the war.

The wheels haven't fallen off, but the Skeet Reese Express has definitely slowed after an impressive six-tournament run to start the season. Last week, he just missed the first cut in 48th place. To make matters worse, Edwin Evers (his closest competitor) finished second and picked up lots of AOY points.

More than most, Reese seems to internalize his performances. He's a sensitive person who sometimes wears his emotions on his sleeves. When he's up, he's way up, and when he's down ...

It'll be interesting to see how Reese does on the Arkansas River this week. If he can right the ship, he'll cruise to his second Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in four years. If not, it'll forever be the one that got away.

Evers is Reese's closest challenger, and things could hardly play out better for him. He's having a great season coming off the worst year of his career, and the final event of the season is in his home state. With a good finish — and "good" means well ahead of wherever Reese finishes — he'll be in great shape for the two postseason events in Alabama. The bass fishing pundits have long pointed toward the affable Evers as an angler who would eventually win AOY. This may be it.

The other angler to watch in Oklahoma is, of course, Kevin VanDam. Just when it looked like his chances for the postseason were slipping away, he comes up with a big win at Kentucky Lake and puts himself in the mix (8th place). It's hard to imagine that he'll fall out of the top 12 now.

Only four members of last season's Toyota 12 are in the mix. Skeet Reese leads the way in first place, Cliff Pace is seventh, VanDam is eighth and Gary Klein is 12th. Michael Iaconelli, Tommy Biffle and Todd Faircloth are part of a four-way tie for 17th and could still qualify. Biffle, in particular, has a history of making up the ground in the last tournament or two. Don't be surprised to see him in Montgomery in July.

The rest of last year's Toyota 12 is scattered between 29th (Gerald Swindle) and 61st (Randy Howell). They're out of the hunt for this year.

The big winners at Kentucky Lake last week — other than KVD — were Kelly Jordon (up 13 places to 37th in the AOY race), Jason Quinn (up 18 places to 42nd) and Mark Menendez (up 14 places to 45th). The biggest drops hit Mark Davis (down nine places to 17th), Dean Rojas (down 12 places to 22nd) and Steve Kennedy (down 14 places to 32nd).

The lowest anyone has ever ranked at this stage and still finished in the top 12 is 21st place. Of the anglers currently in the top dozen, we can anticipate that at least nine or 10 of them will stay right there.

If 21st is as far back as anyone has come to get into the top 12, how far back can you be at this stage and still have a realistic chance to qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans? Jason Quinn, who was 55th at this point last year, holds that record. At the very least we'll likely see one or two anglers currently ranked in the high 40s earning a Classic berth. Perennial Classic qualifiers Tim Horton (54th), Davy Hite (55th), Alton Jones (57th) and Randy Howell (61st) are in real trouble and likely already daydreaming about next year.

A handful of anglers who have never fished a Classic are looking good to make the 2011 field. They're led by Morizo Shimizu (16th), Jason Williamson (21st), Greg Vinson (28th) and Clark Reehm (35th). Just outside the 37-man cut is top Elite rookie Cliff Crochet, who finished 13th at the 2010 Classic.

The bulk of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic field will be set after the Arkansas River event. Thirty-seven of the 50 Classic qualifiers will be able to make plans for New Orleans.