Snapshot Day 4: 2005 Open Championship

  • Editor's note: The only place to see ESPN2 highlights from the Open Championship this weekend is on "BassCenter".

    PRATTVILLE, Ala. — They came here looking for a top five finish and a berth in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

    So with those accomplishments already in hand, one would think today's final round of fishing in the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship would be anticlimactic.

    Think again.

    The five anglers remaining in this tournament have added incentive to finish well today. After all, there is pride in victory not to mention the prestige of winning the Open Championship. There's also that $80,000 top prize that will be awarded to either Mike McClelland, Rick Morris, Chad Brauer, Randy Howell or Mark Menendez.

    "Everybody wants to win," Brauer said. "No one wants to finish second. And if you're in third (which is where Brauer began the day), you want to finish at least second, keep gaining ground every day. Everybody is still very competitive, but they're a little more relaxed about it."

    McClelland, who hails from Bella Vista, Arkansas, has led the Open Championship since it began Thursday on the Alabama River system. His three-day total of 39 pounds, 1 ounce is nearly three pounds better than Morris' total of 36-8. Brauer is in third place with 34-15, Howell is fourth at 28-4 and Menendez is fifth at 27-9.

    The four anglers trailing McClelland know they have to produce sizable bags if they are to catch him. But each said that's not impossible if the weather holds up. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 60s here today, though there is a strong possibility of thunderstorms throughout the morning and early afternoon.

    Morris, who is from Lanexa, Virginia, said regardless of the weather, he plans to fish the Tallapoosa River as he has for most of the tournament. He credited a stronger-than-average current with helping him land big fish the past three days and expects solid results again.

    "The current is going to be a lot less today, but I'm still the only guy with current," Morris said. "There was a little current on the river yesterday because the Tallapoosa was roaring. Once it slows down, the (Alabama) river is going to be real slow. I still feel like I have a chance to catch 18 pounds and win. So I'm going to give it a try."

    All of Morris' larger fish have been caught on jigs, but he anticipates throwing a few spinnerbaits as well today.

    Though he lives in Osage Beach, Missouri, Brauer has made the backwater areas of the Alabama River his home the past three days. That won't change today.
    He said he would need at least 15 pounds to catch McClelland.

    "Mike has a good enough lead that if he goes out and catches a 13 or 14 -pound bag, I don't think any of us can catch him.," Brauer said. "But if he goes out and just catches 10 pounds again and I can put together 15 pounds, I can still catch him. And I think I've got a possibility of doing that. But if I don't catch 15 pounds, I don't think I have a chance."

    McClelland wasn't so sure.

    "I need 10 to 12 pounds to give myself a shot," he said. "If I get 13 or 14, that could make it tough to catch me. But it's not impossible. There are some quality fish around here for someone to beat me."

    Still, he'd rather enter the final day with the 2-pound, 9-ounce cushion he enjoys, rather than play catch up.

    "I know a lot of people say they like to come from behind," McClelland said. "And I guess it is because you don't have the pressure on you, you don't have the attention on you that the leader does ... I've been squeaked up on a little bit each day ... But in this tournament, I'm very excited to be in the lead by 2 and a half pounds."

    Howell and Menendez would need huge bags if they are to have a shot at the Open Championship. Howell, who is from Springville, Alabama (about 90 minutes from Prattville) said he needs at least 20 pounds today to have a chance at the title.

    Still, he conceded even that might not be enough weight. He hopes to secure an early limit on the river then head to backwater areas where he'll target largemouth bass.

    "I might move into some backwaters and swim a jig, maybe throw a buzzbait to catch a big one," Howell said. "This river's got a lot of big largemouth that haven't showed up this week. They're in here. So I may have to do some risk taking. You can't drop below fifth."

    Menendez, who recently returned to the tour after a bout with viral meningitis, said he felt no pressure fishing in final day of the Open Championship. With his Classic berth secure, he expects to have fun today.

    "I'm the last guy that gets to play today," the Paducah, Kentucky pro said. "It doesn't change what I'm going to do. It's a free day of fishing."

    Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.