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Mickelson gives Master's class for bass anglers

3/9/2005

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Phil Mickelson doesn't have a thing to do with fishing.

Fishing, though, can learn a lot from Mickelson's thrilling victory in the Masters Sunday.

Now what can a golfer who for the past decade has been deemed not quite ready for prime time teach us about the sport of fishing?

In the strict sense of learning about hooks and slices, maybe nothing. But in the sense of perseverance, there could be a lot we can stow away in our think tanks.

Mickelson has been so close so many times, most folks always assumed he would always be better known for his flailing ducks than his birdies in championship play.

Like Mickelson, who has always been on the edge of greatness, the sport of competitive fishing has been on that same edge, flirting with greatness and just needing that little bit extra to take it one step further.

In the Masters, Mickelson found his avenue to the next level. And less than a week later bass fishing could find itself on the same street with the help of the Bassmaster Elite 50 series.

It would be a hard case to describe professional bass angling as beleaguered as Mickelson once was. But just the thought that in the annals of sport that hope can conquer all is something to consider.

Along with the vision of Mickleson's leap after sinking his final birdie putt on the 18th is the sound of Michael Iaconelli's battle cry: "Never Give Up!"

As this week gets under way, 50 anglers (most of them already etched in the Heroes Book of the Sport) are getting ready to compete for stakes that most of them can't yet comprehend.

At its core it is a tournament like so many of those we have followed through the years. But for the first time, these anglers are playing a game that will allow them to be at the center of attention in the sports world.

The idea behind adding the Elite 50 series to the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is to highlight the consistent performers in a reduced field and let the cream of the crop rise to the top. Kind of like a series of Masters rolled up into four tournaments.

The PGA has shown us that when Tiger Woods is on the air and in contention of winning, ratings soar and new folks get interested in the sport.

Tiger didn't do that in a single season. And the nature of fishing is that in a single season someone can catch fire and be on top for a short period of time. The annals of bass fishing history are littered with one-season wonders. But being at the top of the fishing game means consistency on a consistent basis.

In the upcoming E-50s you know these guys will be those who have played Tiger's proverbial "A-Game" for more than one season and have the chance to build fan bases within and outside the fishing ranks.

Our heroes will all of a sudden have the opportunity to become heroes of the rest of the world. And our sport, which has been on the edge of greatness, will get its first opportunity to slip over that edge like Mickelson's final putt.

At the very least Mickelson's victory has gotten sports fans ready for anything, like bass fishing becoming a prime-time sport.

Who knows? Maybe this baseball season even the Chicago Cubs have a real chance. But, then again, that might be trying to read too much into Mickelson's win.

Fans can catch the first event of the new Bassmaster Elite 50 series on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle, Saturday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.

About the Elite 50 series

The Elite 50 Series, a no-entry fee four-event series, will combine the top 20 anglers from the all-time BASS money list, the top 27 anglers in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings over the previous three years, the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, the 2004 BASS Rookie of the Year, and the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic Champion to compete for a $1.6 million purse.