Hackney, who stood in fifth place in the point standings heading into the finale of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer, is currently seventh in the tournament and, if the season wrapped up after Thursday's round, would be the 2004 Angler of the Year. The seventh-place berth is worth 272 points, bumping his total from 1,059 to 1,331.
"This is real drama: the race for the title coming down to the last event - and not just the last event, but the home stretch of the season finale," said BASS Vice President and General Manager Dean Kessel. "I can't imagine that these guys are getting any sleep at all with so much at stake."
In addition to the $111,550 winner's purse and additional $200,000 that will be distributed down to 25th place, the point standings also determine which anglers will earn berths in the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, as well as determining the majority of the field for the upcoming Bassmaster Elite 50 series.
Hackney came into the finale with 1,059 points accumulated from strong finishes throughout the Tour season. A seventh place finish at Santee Cooper Reservoir would add 272 points to that total, launching him well ahead of the rest of the field. The second-year Tour pro is no stranger to points championships: in 2002, he was the Central Division points champion in the CITGO Bassmaster Open series, earning his Tour card and a berth in the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, where he finished a respectable 31st.
But the 2004 Tour season has defied handicappers, and there is a full day of competition to go before the field of 157 pros is cut to the top 12. If Hackney slips - or if one of the four anglers ahead of him in points makes a charge - the affable pro could lose his tentative grasp on the trophy. And he has plenty of competition from the rest of the top 10:
* Arkansas rookie Scott Suggs, who has spent more time atop the Angler of the Year leaderboard than anyone else this season, slid toward the back of the pack on Thursday despite the 1,142 points he carried into the event. Suggs was in 107th place after day one, which only adds 59 points to his Angler of the Year total. Just 13 points separated him from second place contender Gerald Swindle going into the Tour finale, and Suggs will have to post a near-record catch on Friday to stay in the hunt.
* Alabama's Swindle earned 1,129 points prior to this event. Currently in 57th in the tournament, he would pick up 161 points for a total of 1,290 but still fall short of the season champion's title.
* Kansas pro Brent Chapman, in third with 1,112 points before Thursday's round, would pick up 119 points for his 78th place spot after day one and is still in great position to charge for the title.
* Reigning CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey is also a potential contender. Iaconelli has 1,082 points, but his 61st place perch on Thursday would add 153 points to his total, bringing it to 1,235.
* Arkansas's Mark Davis - a three-time Angler of the Year - came in with 1,046 points and is currently in 115th in the tournament, adding 51 points to his total, for 1,097.
* Missouri's Denny Brauer, fresh from victory at Alabama's Lake Eufaula, has 1,026 points and is in 80th, giving him a possible 115 points, totaling 1,141.
* Takahiro Omori, a Japanese pro who now lives in Texas, had 1,007 points after the Eufaula event, and would pick up an additional 197 for his current 39th-place berth, bringing his score to 1,204.
* California's Skeet Reese, who was in ninth place with 993 points heading to Santee Cooper, is another big story. Reese, currently in third at the tournament, would earn a whopping 290 points, for a cumulative 1,283.
* Tennessee pro David Walker rounded out the top 10 heading into the tournament, posting 992 points for the first five events of the season. Currently in 72nd place, he would add 131 points to his total, bringing it to 1,123.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. This April, BASS introduces the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
Local Sponsors include Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.