With a berth in the 2005 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo hanging in the balance, Sonny Murphy admitted to perhaps wilting under the last-minute pressure provided by the Pace Picante ProRodeo Classic last November in Dallas.
This year, the heat is off at the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship hosted by Texas Stampede. That's just the way the Herriman, Utah, bull rider likes it.
"Going into Dallas, I have it (Wrangler NFR) made, so I'll be a lot more relaxed," Murphy said. "I can do what I do."
And that's ride bulls without thinking too much. Last year, Murphy needed four quality rides in Dallas to perhaps vault into the Top 15. He placed third in the first round and made the whistle in the second round, but finished out of the money. His high average score helped him reach the U.S. Army Championship Round despite a buckoff in the semifinal round.
Running out of chances, Murphy couldn't seal the deal aboard Cervi and Guidry's XS Energy. Although he eventually finished 25th in the final world standings, Murphy carried plenty of momentum into his sophomore year, which has included watershed moments at the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, where he won the bull riding title, and the recently held ProRodeo Tour Summer Finale in Omaha, Neb., where he hoisted a championship crystal cup.
And along the way, he exacted a measure of revenge by scoring 90 points on XS Energy during the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out in Tulsa, Okla.
Despite his success that has him No. 2 in the world, Murphy is taking it all in stride.
"I try to relax and stay focused," Murphy said. "This year, if I get bucked off, I'm not going to let that get to me and not get too worried. I've always considered myself pretty good under pressure, but to me, Dallas is just another rodeo."
While the rodeo won't break Murphy's season, half of the field heading to Dallas is pinning its Las Vegas hopes on winning big checks on the regular season's final weekend. Zack Oakes (16th), Mike Moore (18th), D.J. Domangue (21st) and Trent Cormier (29th) can still vault into the Top 15 by coming through in the clutch. For a rider like 14th-ranked Jason McClain, a solid weekend can put some distance between him and the contenders below him in the standings.
Murphy, along with reigning World Champion Bull Rider champion Matt Austin, who's still trying to get healthy after a late-October injury, headline the field of top-10 riders in Dallas who will try to improve their positioning heading into the Wrangler NFR. Others in the mix include Dustin Elliott, the 2004 World Campion bull rider, JayC Bean, Bobby Welsh and Steve Woolsey.
2006 Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge Event Previews