Kevin VanDam ofKalamazoo, Mich., amassed enough points Saturday to close the deal hesaid he’s been focused on since his first cast this season: the 2011Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, his seventhbest-angler title and fourth consecutive. Not even the legendaryRoland Martin, holder of nine Angler of the Year titles through 1985,strung together more than three in a row. VanDam on Saturday alsobecame the first pro to land Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classictitles in the same season for two seasons running.
“This one means as muchif not more to me. Winning never gets old when you’re competing againstthese guys,” said VanDam of his fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pros.“I’ve been out to win Angler of the Year since the first cast of thefirst tournament of the season. “Every pro wants to winAngler of the Year because it is our sport’s highest award. It showsyou’re at the top of your game and it rewards consistency. I haven’t wona regular-season tournament this year — although I’m trying to changethat here on Wheeler.” VanDam — many fans callhim “KVD” — closed on the Angler of the Year title on the third day ofthe four-day Dixie Duel, the Wheeler Lake event in Alabama that doubledas the points race finish line and the Bassmaster Elite Series seasonfinale. The tournament concludes Sunday, but by Saturday no angler had amathematical chance of overtaking VanDam in the points standings. Edwin Evers of Talala,Okla., came the closest. Trailing by 55 points going into the WheelerLake event, Evers had been VanDam’s top threat. The Oklahoma pro had, infact, been nipping at the heels of the points leaders throughout theseason: Shaw Grigsby after the season opener (which he won), Alton Jonesfrom tournament No. 2 through No. 5, and Terry Scroggins, who took thelead after the sixth event but lost it to VanDam in Arkansas. Evers — the runner-up toVanDam for the 2010 title — faded as a threat in the first two days ofDixie Duel competition. But the game wasn’t over, and Evers got anotherat-bat when the competition continued Saturday. “I don’t have any quit in me,” Evers said as he set out Saturday for one more swipe at VanDam. But the heroics Eversneeded didn’t happen for him. There was no magic in Steve Kennedy’s hateither. Third in points behind VanDam going into the Wheeler event,Kennedy on Saturday also had had a mathematical chance of catchingVanDam. The $100,000 award wasbased on points earned in 2011 over eight regular-season tournaments.VanDam started the season with a fourth-place finish on Florida’s HarrisChain of Lakes. He followed with 11th place on the St. Johns River.After the third and fourth events — finishing 22nd on Pickwick, 33rd onToledo Bend — he was No. 3 in the standings. Then, fishing throughback-to-back events in April at West Point Lake and Lake Murray, VanDaminched into second place in points. He took over at No. 1 on May 12 after the Arkansas River event. At that point only one event, the Dixie Duel, remained. VanDam won his firstAngler of the Year crown in 1992 when he was the still the 24-year-old“Kalamazoo Kid.” The road to the Angler of the Year was much differentin the early 1990s, VanDam said. “It’s harder now towin,” he said. “And when I won that first one, I really didn’tunderstand the magnitude of what it meant to win an Angler of the Yeartitle.”
He had to work four moreyears for his second title in 1996. He won for the third time in 1999.Then he started stacking the crowns: 2008, 2009, 2010 and now 2011.Meanwhile, he was winning Classics: 2001, 2005 and back-to-backs in 2010and 2011. VanDam weighed in on the question of what the sport considers to be hardest title to win, Classic or Angler of the Year. “Winning the Classic is abig deal — an incredible, awesome accomplishment. It’s the toughesttournament there is to win, but it’s one tournament. I think if you askmost anglers, they’d say winning Angler of the Year is harder,” he said. VanDam, 43, has set thebar high on a list of statistics and records in Bassmaster tournamenthistory. Since his first Bassmaster tournament in 1987, VanDam has won$5.2 million — more than the second- and third-place money winnerscombined — on the B.A.S.S. circuit. When he won the 2011 Classic, hetied with Rick Clunn for most Classic victories, four. VanDam hasqualified for 22 consecutive Classics (counting Classic 2012). He hasposted top-10 finishes 94 times. He has stacked up a record 20Bassmaster event wins, including the four Classics. The competition amongElite Series pros for points wasn’t over when VanDam won the title. TheElite field will work through Sunday to claim spots below No. 1 andcollect prizes awarded on a sliding scale to 50th place. Final points standings will be available Sunday afternoon at Bassmaster.com
. Monday, VanDam is scheduled to be featured on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning
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