Kevin VanDam will go into the final event of the Bassmaster Elite Series season next week needing to make up 107 points on Skeet Reese to win his fourth BASS Angler of the Year (AOY) title. That's a substantial deficit, so he won't burden himself with worrying about where Reese might finish at Lake Toho.
He'll be concerned only with himself. And as always,
he'll set his sights on the trophy.
"I haven't done any of the math to figure out where I need to finish if Skeet finishes 60th or whatever," he said. "Forget that – my goal is to win the tournament and lead every day to pick up the bonus points.
"If I do that and Skeet finishes 10th, it won't make any difference (in the AOY race). It's his title to lose."
A Lot of Help Needed
Even if VanDam notches his third victory of the season in the finale, he'll still likely need a finish of 30th or worse from Reese in order to claim the AOY. The Californian has ended up that far down in the pack just twice in 2007 – he was 53rd at Guntersville in April and 67th at Grand in June.
In the other eight events, his average finish was 5th.
"I've had a real good year, but Skeet's had a phenomenal year, so I'll just accept whatever happens," VanDam said. "(More than) 100 points is going to be hard to make up.
"But it's been fun, and this is what I live for. This type of competition is why I do this."
His past AOY triumphs have not diminished his hunger for the title. In fact, it's just the opposite.
"If anything, it's increased it. The biggest thing is the sense of satisfaction you get from winning it, because it's probably the hardest thing to accomplish in the sport. I'm not taking anything away from the (Bassmaster) Classic – it's the biggest event and it's a big deal, no doubt. But it's one tournament.
"The (AOY) is for the whole season, and for most of the guys who compete, it's the most prestigious. Once you've been there once, you know how tough of a title it is to win."
The Tougher, the Better
VanDam said one thing that might be to his advantage is that Toho won't be at its best next week. Through September, midday water temperatures often creep into the 90s, and it can be extremely difficult to get bites after about 10 a.m.
Those who don't capitalize on the early-morning feed could be in trouble.
Lake Toho will likely be on the stingy side when the Elite Series anglers arrive, and that suits VanDam just fine.
"At this time of year, Toho can be rough on a lot of guys," he said. "It seems like every year we finish the season on a tough lake, and some guys are really happy to move up and get into the Classic, and other guys fall out. The same thing happens with the AOY."
He said the tension at the regular-season finale might be even higher than the Classic.
"There's so many people who have so much on the line, and no matter who you are, you can feel the difference. It doesn't matter if you're leading the AOY or you're in 90th place in the standings – it's a chance to do something positive and end the season on a good note.
"It's like no other event during the year."
Slightly Different Mentality
VanDam's practice routine won't change much for Toho – he always tries to maximize his available time on the water prior to the start of competition. But he'll be a little more keyed in on big fish than usual.
"Sure, it'll be a little bit different," he said. "Even on the last day, if I'm behind at all, I'll be going after a giant bag of fish.
"Because it's a little bit different mentality, that can have an effect on the techniques and the baits I use and the type of areas I fish. I'll have to be constantly looking for those better-quality fish."
However it comes out, there'll be a sense of relief when it's over.
"I'm excited about this event, but I'm looking forward to some time away this off-season. With the length of season we have now, it's a real grind."
> VanDam has averaged a 14th-place finish in the last three events at Toho (the 2006 Classic and regular-season tournaments in 2005 and 2001). Reese has averaged a 65th-place showing, but that's mainly due to one bomb (153rd in '01). He's ended up 24th and 12th in his last two visits.
> VanDam and Reese are also 1-2 in the BassFan World Rankings presented by Tru-Tungsten, but their positions are reversed. The Rankings track anglers' performances over the past 2 calendar years.