LAS VEGAS Will Lowe, the 21-year-old bareback rider who burst onto the ProRodeo scene as a rookie last year, unofficially became the first world champion of the 2003 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Lowe (Canyon, Texas) finished third in the eighth go-round in front of 17,986 at Thomas & Mack Center and has now won $175,760 to lead second-place Jason Jeter (Mansfield, Texas) by $65,936. Even if Jeter were to win the final two go-rounds and the average, he would fall about $500 short of Lowe if Lowe didn't win another dime.
"I don't even know what to say," Lowe said. "I've wanted to do this since I was little. It's a dream come true. I never in a million years would have thought it would come this early."
The gold buckle will cap a dominating season for Lowe, who seemed to do best at the large ProRodeo Tour rodeos this season, winning all three Pace Picante finales. He broke the regular-season earnings record for bareback with $137,379 and is on pace to break the overall single-season earnings record. With two rounds and the average still to pay, he is less than $10,000 behind the record of $185,556 set by Lan LaJeunesse in 2001.
Lowe is second in the average, which pays nearly $30,000.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Lowe said. "I haven't been posting those huge scores like I did last year, but this is what I love to do, riding bucking horses. I'm having a blast doing it everywhere, but it's even more fun here."
His fellow bareback competitors said Lowe deserves the title.
"Will's a good cowboy and he rides great and he deserves it," said veteran bareback rider Larry Sandvick (Belle Fourche, S.D.). "Good for him. I'm tickled for him. He's had a great season. We all kind of knew coming in that this was going to happen."
Canadian cowboy Davey Shields (Bashaw, Alberta) won the go-round in bareback riding, scoring 87 points on Beutler and Son's Smokeless Commotion.
The world standings in steer wrestling continue to change on a daily basis, setting the stage for an exciting final two go-rounds.
Rod Lyman (Victor, Mont.) went back to the lead in the world standings with a second-place finish Friday. Lyman has won $122,495 and leads second-place Teddy Johnson (Checotah, Okla.) by $3,000 and Birch Negaard (Buffalo, S.D.) by about $8,000. Lyman, however, is out of the average, which pays more than $36,000 to the winner, while Johnson is second and Negaard is third.
Cash Myers (Athens, Texas) won the go-round with a time of 3.9 seconds. He moved up to fifth in the world standings, but is also out of the average.
The lead also flip-flopped in the world standings for the tie-down roping with defending world champion Fred Whitfield (Hockley, Texas) moving back on top with a scorching 6.9-second run. Whitfield won $14,335 and leads second-place Cody Ohl by about $11,000.
Ohl finished out of the money Friday night, but is third in the average with two rounds to go, three spots ahead of Whitfield. Third place pays just over $23,000 and sixth place pays just over $9,000.
Whitfield declined to comment after his victory.
There was a tie in the go-round in team roping with the duo of Tee Woolman (Llano, Texas) and Kyle Lockett (Ivanhoe, Calif.) matching the 4.0-second run of Daniel Green (Oakdale, Calif.) and Kory Koontz (Sudan, Texas).
Jackie Dube (Giddings, Texas) won her second consecutive go-round in the barrel racing, rounding the barrels in 13.97 seconds, but it was second-place finisher Janae Ward (Addington, Okla.) who moved into position to win her first world championship.
Ward moved to the lead in the average and trails world leader Kelly Kaminski by about $21,000 with two rounds to go. Kaminski is out of the average race, while Ward stands to win more than $36,000 if she wins the average.
In bull riding, Fred Boettcher (Tomah, Wis.) won the go-round with an 87-point ride on Stace Smith Pro Rodeo's Dippin Rampage to win $14,335 and move up to seventh place in the world standings. Jason McClain (Kiowa, Colo.) was the only other bull rider to post a score as he rode Sutton Rodeo's Little Yellow Whale for 82 points and $11,329.
Terry Don West (Henryetta, Okla.) maintains a lead of about $42,000 over second-place B.J. Schumacher (Hillsboro, Wis.).
Guy Clifton covers rodeo for the Reno Gazette-Journal. He can be reached at 775.788.6337 or email@example.com.