We're nearly halfway through the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series season and things are taking shape in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Three anglers Shaw Grigsby, Edwin Evers and Davy Hite have already punched their tickets for Shreveport and the 2012 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River. Five more will earn berths by winning the remaining Elite events, and 28 other Elite anglers will earn their way to the Classic by finishing in the upper ranks of the points standings.
The season is a long way from over, but we can make some educated guesses about how things will turn out the rest of this year.
If history is our guide, Tommy Biffle, Boyd Duckett and Scott Rook three perennial Classic qualifiers will be on the sidelines for the 2012 championship. They rank 77th, 84th and 93rd, respectively, and no one that far down in the standings has ever moved into the top 28 with just five tournaments left in the season.
The best comeback ever posted at this stage of the season came in 2009, when Byron Velvick jumped from 65th after three events to 21st at the end of the season. Last year, Boyd Duckett did almost the same thing, moving from 65th to 25th. This year Boyd will need to do even better if he wants to fish a sixth straight Classic.
Of course, all three of these pros can get to the Classic by winning one of the remaining five Elite events. Unless they have a stellar tournament at Toledo Bend, that should be their focus for the rest of the season.
At the top of the AOY standings, things are clearing up, too. Alton Jones is the leader, 30 points up on Terry Scroggins and 80 points better than Kevin VanDam. It's reminiscent of 2009 at this same stage. Jones had about the same lead over Stephen Browning.
With five to go, don't expect a lot of shakeups at the top of the AOY leaderboard. And don't expect anyone outside the top four (Jones, Scroggins, VanDam and Shaw Grigsby) to win it this year. Everyone else is likely too far out even though the season is less than half over.
Skeet Reese was 7th at this point in 2009 yet led the AOY race after eight events and going into the postseason, so it would seem that a comeback of that magnitude is well within the range of possible. But Skeet was only 79 points back in a tight contest. Only one angler is currently within 79 points of Alton Jones and only three are within 100 points of him.
As usual, the battle is between established veterans. All of the top anglers are in their 40s (except Grigsby, who's 54) and two of them would become the oldest AOY in history if they seal the deal (Jones would be nearly 48 and Grigsby would be just over 55). Currently, Roland Martin is the oldest ever. He was 45 years, 2 months and 18 days old when he won his ninth title in 1985.
In the final analysis, the AOY race is all about getting out front early, making a lot of cuts and hanging on. Only one of our top four challengers (KVD) has ever won the title before, and the other three need to keep an eye on him. He's going for an unprecedented four in a row and no one should be betting against him.