UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart FLW Tour - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

AOY Contenders

Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer are the top contenders in the 2014 AOY race.

Surprise, surprise.

Once again, Andy Morgan is at the top of the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings.

Through four events, the 2013 AOY and world's No. 1 angler has finished second twice, has an additional top-20 finish and hasn't placed below 22nd. He has already earned $82,000 on Tour without winning an event.

The big question: Can anyone catch him?

At this pace, the easy answer is, heck no. But this is fishing. What happened at the last tournament doesn't mean bunk a few weeks from now, when the Tour makes its final swing through the Tennessee River Valley with stops at ledge-fishing meccas Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake.

We know Morgan doesn't like to idle around on the ledges, staring at his electronics and jockeying for position on the best holes. He's said so. Yet his history at both fisheries includes a fistful of top 10s. Plus, he's Andy Morgan. He'll be on them like always.

Behind Morgan in the standings is a regular who's who of professional fishing. It includes some of the most decorated pros over the last 10 years, as well as a few rising stars who'd love to snatch the crown away from the king.

To get you up to speed on how this season's AOY race is shaping up, we decided to break down the top five, as well as examine a few pros who are trending up and down near the Forrest Wood Cup qualification cut-off line at 35th place.

There are two more derbies to go. Who do you think will be on top when the dust settles?
Andy Morgan - 1st Place
Andy Morgan caught this smallmouth-largemouth combo with just 20 minutes left to fish on the final day.

Repel pro Cody Meyer has started referring to Morgan as " The G.O.A.T." That's "The Greatest of All Time."

It's tough to argue with Meyer's assessment, considering Morgan has nearly 60 FLW top 10s and has run off what is probably the most impressive seven-season streak in Tour history, with consecutive AOY finishes of seventh, eighth, fourth, second, 10th, 10th and first.

Last season, when Morgan won his first AOY title, he earned 1,098 points - 183 per event. His average finish was 18th place. His worst finish was 68th, though he had three top 10s.

Compare that to this season. Morgan has earned 765 AOY points - 191.25 points per event. He's averaging a finish of 9th place. His worst finish is 22nd, and he already has two top 10s.

Maybe we need to check him for performance enhancers, because this dude is freakishly good.

So what are his chances of winning back-to-back AOY titles? Probably pretty good. Morgan grew up on the Tennessee River, so he understands fisheries like Pickwick and Kentucky Lake, which are the last two stops. His biggest hurdle is probably Pickwick, which could fish small if bass are set up on summertime ledges. Kentucky Lake offers more options for Morgan's preferred run-and-gun, fish-the-conditions style, and since the tournament is out of Paris, Tenn., he'll be able to start closer to the lake's more riverine upper end, where a shallow to middepth pattern could win the tournament. Morgan has a bunch of top 10s at Kentucky Lake too, so if he does slip at Pickwick, he's probably got a fair shot at making up for it at the final event.

Of course, there's also that group of stars behind him to worry about ...
Cody Meyer - 2nd Place
Cody Meyer laughs as he tosses back a 3-pound bass that won

Sitting six points behind Morgan, Cody Meyer obviously has the best shot at overtaking the lead. He was in first at Beaver Lake and finished ninth in that event. In most leagues, that would easily have been good enough to maintain the AOY lead. But, of course, Morgan finished in second and moved ahead of Meyer in the standings.

Meyer has developed a reputation as a top-10 machine at the Forrest Wood Cup, where he strung together three consecutive single-digit finishes. This season, he's showing how well he can get it done during the regular season too. He's already finished in the top 10 three times. His one "slip-up" was a 27th-place finish at Sam Rayburn, where he had to settle for a $10,000 check.

Meyer's tournament history is kind of like Morgan's too. Let's call him Mr. Consistency Jr. He recently set the Tour record for consecutive limits caught with 50 straight. He's got 20 top-10 finishes. And in four years on Tour, his AOY finishes are 43rd, 15th, fifth and 11th - not too shabby.

He's never finished in the top 10 on the Tennessee River, but he has several top-25 finishes. If he can improve even a few places, Meyer should stay in the hunt.
Jacob Wheeler - 3rd Place
Rayovac pro Jacob Wheeler hopped around his primary area all morning. He was all business.

Jacob Wheeler is in third place, 63 points off the lead. Wheeler would have to average a finish of 31 places higher than Morgan at each of the remaining tournaments to overtake him in the standings.

That's definitely doable for the young rising star, who jumped from sixth to third in the standings at Beaver Lake.

This is Wheeler's first real threat to win the Tour AOY, and he's gotten into this position relatively quietly thus far. He's made only one top-20 cut - at Lake Hartwell, where he finished 20th. His other finishes are 21st, 38th and 23rd.

What keeps Wheeler in the hunt is his incredible ability to follow up a poor day with a big day, which prevents him from bombing out of any event. An example: Wheeler caught 7 pounds, 8 ounces on day one at Okeechobee. On day two, he rallied to catch 27-14.

If he wins AOY, you can call that Okeechobee turnaround the difference-maker.

I like Wheeler's odds for a strong finish in each of the last two events. They should be power-fishing derbies, where capitalizing on bite windows driven by current and wind can make the difference in finishing in the middle or finishing on top.
Mark Rose - 4th Place
Mark Rose caught these two lunkers right off the bat Saturday morning, but then had to work hard to fill up his livewell.


And here's your storyline. Mark Rose is 72 points back of Morgan, and the final two events couldn't have been set up any better for his skill set.

Rose is everybody's favorite at both Pickwick and Kentucky Lake. In one month, he very well could fund both his daughters' college educations, win his first AOY title, generate enough tax revenue to pave Main Street and probably sell a few hundred thousand Strike King crankbaits when he schools the field on the very ledges where he built his career. Winning AOY pays $100,000. Couple that with what Rose could win at the last two events, and he just might go over the $2 million career earnings mark.

So let's have some fun with math: Say Rose finishes in the top 10 at both events. The fewest AOY points he could earn is 191 at each stop, for 382 points. That would boost his season total to 1,075. Morgan would have to earn 155 points in each tournament to tie, which means averaging a 46th-place finish. Whew, it could be crazy close.

Wouldn't it be great to see Rose and Morgan go into the final tournament on Kentucky Lake, neck-and-neck in the standings in a battle between the ledge master and the world's best shallow power fisherman? That'd be great television.
Brent Ehrler - 5th Place

This one helped Brent Ehrler cull up a bit.

All this talk about top pros, and we almost forgot about this guy. The one accomplishment Brent Ehrler has yet to achieve with FLW is an Angler of the Year title. He's come oh so close far too many times with six top-10 AOY finishes, including a pair of runner-ups.

Ehrler's biggest strength is his versatility. He catches them everywhere and just doesn't have bad tournaments. His worst finish thus far is 50th at Beaver Lake. That one hurt a little, but it doesn't rule him out. Ehrler is tied for points with Rose, and he very well could win at Pickwick or Kentucky Lake.

Cup Contenders
Shin Fukae - 6th Place - The 2004 AOY has rebounded from a couple of mediocre seasons and is firmly in position to make the Forrest Wood Cup.

Jason Christie - 7th Place - Christie didn't win the AOY in 2013, but he was the professional fishing MVA (Most Valuable Angler), with two tour-level victories and a top 10 at the Bassmaster Classic. He's a lock to make the Cup this year.

Stetson Blaylock - 9th Place - Fans might have forgotten about the unassuming Blaylock, but his competition hasn't. This young gun was the AOY runner-up in 2013 and sits in ninth right now. He dropped a few places after Beaver Lake, but expect him to rebound once he's had some time to recharge his batteries during the Tour's break in May.

Steve Kennedy - 13th Place - Kennedy is 124 points off the AOY lead, meaning he's as good as out of it. However, he's won two Tour events on Kentucky Lake and has had good success at Pickwick. Maybe he's got an historic comeback in him.

Brett Hite - 15th Place - Hite narrowly missed the Cup last year and didn't make it in 2012, either. This year, he went on an early tear by winning the Tour opener and an Elite Series event. He's as good as in this year's Cup, barring a major catastrophe.

Casey Ashley - 19th Place - Ashley's bid to fish the Forrest Wood Cup on one of his home fisheries appears to be paying off. He won the second stop of the season at Lake Hartwell and finished in the top 10 at Beaver Lake. He'll be a favorite this summer in Columbia for the Cup on Lake Murray.

Travis Fox - 30th Place - Fox made a huge move with his top 10 at Beaver Lake. He climbed from 64th in the standings up to 30th, which puts him on the right side of the Forrest Wood Cup bubble. It would be his first trip to the Big Dance.

Scott Suggs - 32nd Place - The 2007 Cup champion made a move in the wrong direction. Suggs dropped 10 spots in the standings at Beaver Lake with his second consecutive finish below 80th place. He's now on the bubble. Should he make the Cup, Suggs would probably be a favorite due to his skills at tracking open-water bass in summer.

Larry Nixon - 38th Place - No one wants to win a Forrest Wood Cup more than the General. He's done everything else there is to do in professional fishing. As it stands, he's got a few places to make up if he wants a shot this season.

Troy Morrow - 39th Place - Morrow's career has been funded by the Forrest Wood Cup. He's been there three times and finished in the top 10 each time. That's because he's an excellent offshore, summertime angler. He's almost in, but can't afford a letdown in the last two events.

Andy Montgomery - 43rd Place - This two-tour pro is a home-state favorite at Lake Murray - if he can qualify. Montgomery has had an up-and-down season, with finishes of 34th, 108th, eighth and 97th. He'll need a couple strong finishes at the end of the season to seal his invitation.

Anthony Gagliardi - 44th Place - What a streak Gags has put together. After being disqualified from the first event, this FLW millionaire has finished seventh, 30th and 13th. Just qualifying for the Cup would be an incredible feat. Of course, if he gets there, the Lake Murray local will be everyone's favorite to win it all.

Current Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year Standings

Tags: curtis-niedermier  article 

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