Winning the Survival Round

Sometimes the ones where you don't stumble are as important as the ones you win.

The season-opening Elite Series tournament on Cherokee produced all sorts of story lines, and while there’s still lots of pitching and flipping left to go, it’s never too early to speculate about the AOY race. Obviously, Jacob Wheeler leads at this early stage, but my two picks for the title did themselves proud.
 
Specifically, Randall Tharp finished 8th and Keith Combs finished 13th. Last year they finished 2nd and 3rd in the race, respectively, a fair distance behind Gerald Swindle, but really only one or two subpar finishes away from the title. Combs was 90th at Bull Shoals/Norfork (a tournament that Tharp won) and Tharp was 78th at Toledo Bend.
 
This year, either of them could stumble again at any time, but the first hurdle has been passed. While both can and will use a spinning rod when necessary, it’s not their strongest suit. Indeed, Tharp avoided video gaming and went the Sinatra route, fishing with casting gear, primarily with a jig and chunk. If there was a week that was likely to kill either of their title chances, this was it, and not only did they survive, they flourished. Now they head to Okeechobee and subsequently on to Texas, two locales where both of them should fill lots of our Fantasy Fishing teams.
 
Of course, if one of them does somehow underachieve, my number three pick for the title could swoop in. Young Jordan Lee didn’t stumble at Cherokee, either, finishing 16th.