In the shadow of the stars at the Bassmaster American

The unsung hero of the Bassmaster American, Mark Menendez has remained in the hunt over three days of competition to qualify for the Super Six finalists. 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Super Six field at the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts is comparable to heading into Sunday of a PGA Major with Mickelson, Singh, and Els at the top, with Tiger lurking a few strokes back.

Like most of the final day groupings of an Elite tournament, the crew isn't lacking star power.

Leading the way with a 4 pound, 15 ounce lead over second place is Dave Wolak. For the Pennsylvania angler, this isn't his first rodeo. Wolak is the reigning Bassmaster Rookie of the Year and has two top ten finishes this year, including a ninth place finish at the first Major in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Trying to catch him from second place is the always entertaining Gerald Swindle. Swindle captured the Angler of the Year title in 2004 and finished in fifth place at Lake Guntersville, but is still looking for his first victory on the Bassmaster circuit.

Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla. sits in third place and is enjoying getting into his second cut of the Elite season. Scroggins started off with a bang in 2006 by finishing in fourth place on his home water, Lake Toho, at the prestigious Bassmaster Classic.

Kevin VanDam is in fourth place. What more does one need to say, it's KVD. Two Classic titles notched onto the belt, over $2 million in career earnings, 10 first place finishes, and perhaps the greatest angler to ever grace the sport of bass fishing.

Rounding out the Super Six is none other than Jason Quinn. Squeaking into the Sunday cut in virtue of a tiebreaker over the 2004 Classic champion Takahiro Omori. The perennial favorite on Lake Wylie, Quinn had high expectations going into the tournament and he has fulfilled them. Sunday might be the day the hometown curse gets broken.

The Super Six will battle it out on a humid day in Charlotte, N.C. for a top prize of $250,000.

Oh yeah, failed to mention fifth place. Who is it? Does anyone know?

He was in 15th place after Thursday's weigh-in with 11 pounds, 7 ounces. He then snatched the final spot in the top 12 to fish on Saturday by one ounce over Greg Hackney. Then he stayed in the hunt by catching a limit on Day Three to earn the number five qualifying spot on Sunday.

In the shadow of all the stars is Mark Menendez.

The native Kentuckian qualified for the Major through an official medical exemption. More than a year ago, Menendez was diagnosed with viral meningitis and was forced to miss an entire year on the water.

"It is a star-studded field in every one of these events, and to be part of it is humbling still," said Menendez. "To get a second chance that was robbed of me due to my illness is really a blessing that I can never take for granted."

And he hasn't. Menendez has now made the final day cut in both Majors this season; he finished in fourth place at the Bassmaster Memorial in May.

When asked how he felt about being lost in the shuffle between all the big names, Menendez says that he is used to it.

"I have been the first guy out and the last guy in my entire career," he said. "Fortunately, I've been in more times than I've been out, but when it turns around and I come up short I will never complain because I've been on the good side too many times."

Menendez qualified for this year's Classic through the Open Championship in 2005 by winning a tiebreaker over Matt Reed for the fifth and final spot. In 1991, he was the last angler to get a bid to get on the tour, and ended up being his rookie season

"My wife says that the stress is killing her and doesn't know how I do it. I'm just accustomed to it," he says. "When I see how it's going to shake out I know I'm going to be the last guy in or the first guy out, and if I'm in, probably overlooked.

"It's a part of the game that is really hard. It's hard on your psyche, it's hard on everything."

Being hidden among the stars may work to Menendez's advantage. While most of the other anglers experienced high boat traffic from fans on the water, that wasn't the case for the darkhorse.

"I had one guy follow me all day yesterday, and it was a fan from Kentucky," he stated. "It's kind of nice because that way I can throw a temper tantrum and nobody will see it."