With three tournaments left in the 2018 FLW Tour season, it’s high time we take a look at the race for the Forrest Wood Cup. The Cup, with its $300,000 top prize, can change a career, but qualifying for it is also a major achievement and the mark of a very successful season.
The top 40 pros in the FLW Tour standings will qualify for the show, which is being held Aug. 10-12 on Lake Ouachita. Like in years past, the cut will extend a few extra places down the Tour standings due to double-qualifying pros who previously made it in through other means but also finish the season inside the cut. Currently, Jason Abram, Sheldon Collings, Todd Hollowell, Justin Atkins and Bryan Thrift are pre-qualified due to their accomplishments in 2017. Right now, everyone but Todd Hollowell is either inside the cut or so close to it that it’s reasonable to expect the Cup cut to drop down to at least 43rd or 44th place.
The final three events are quite diverse and will transition the season from Florida and a pair of prespawn events to postspawn fish and the North. First up is Lewis Smith Lake, which should feature clear water and mostly postspawn largemouths and spotted bass. Kentucky Lake could be a bit of a toss-up depending on the water levels, but it’s probably going to be an epic ledge-fishing event like usual. The season finale at St. Clair will be amazing. The smallmouths won’t be as fat and summery as they are in August, but the fishing is going to be pretty great regardless.
For now, we’ll look at the folks on the edge of the cut in an effort to gauge their Cup prospects.
In his fourth full season on Tour, Schmitt is looking for his third Cup qualification in a row. He finished 24th in the points in 2016 and eighth in 2017, so it seems likely that he’ll march his way up the standings and be inside the cut by the end of the season. None of the remaining lakes are necessarily in his wheelhouse, but he’s expanded on his tidal roots to become as versatile and capable as anyone on Tour.
After winning the Rookie of the Year title in 2017, Dortch is off to another solid start. He has had some good success on Lewis Smith Lake in the past, but he’s lacking in first-hand experience the rest of the way. Nonetheless, he’s good enough that he ought to be able to find some consistency, and that will give him a great shot at qualifying.
The second half of the season looks pretty good for Jamie Horton. Lewis Smith isn’t exactly his style, but it’s close to home. Horton is well-versed on the Tennessee River and should do just fine on Kentucky Lake. If he can figure out how to wrangle some smallmouths at St. Clair (or maybe go all-in on largemouths for a check) then he’s a shoe-in for his third consecutive Cup qualification.
If Felix hadn’t had mechanical issues on day two at Cumberland there’s a pretty good chance he’d be well inside the cut already. As is, it looks like he’s got a good shot to move up the ranks. He’s had success that is at least tangential to everything left on the season, and the final stop at St. Clair could give him a great shot to make up some ground. Felix is an exceptional smallmouth angler and figures to do very well on the border.
Devere hasn’t finished above 46th in the standings since 2010, so improving over the stretch run is going to be a big challenge for the veteran angler. That said, he has done well on both St. Clair and Lewis Smith in the past, so it’s not entirely out of the question. The next tournament is probably going to be make-or-break for him. If he can build off his 54th-place finish at Cumberland he may be able to make a run for his first Cup since he qualified four years in a row from 2007 to 2010.
Setzer’s first two seasons as a pro were not great, but he’s on track this year for sure. He’s had an odd season, making two cuts at the Harris Chain and Lanier, and finishing below 100th at Okeechobee and Cumberland. He’ll need to avoid another triple-digit finish the rest of the way, but it looks pretty good for him. He’s a versatile guy, and he’s had plenty of success as a co-angler or a pro on Lewis Smith, on ledges and on smallmouths.
It’s hard to imagine LeHew not making the Cup. He’s made it three years running now, and though he’s off the pace a little this season, he’s finished 36th or better in the standings each of the last three years. Lewis Smith could be right up his alley, as it has a fun mix of spots and largemouths, plus blueback herring. He’s conquered Kentucky Lake before in college and on Tour. The main issue is probably St. Clair. Historically, LeHew and smallmouths haven not mixed well in competition.
Consistency is key for making the Cup, and Upshaw has been very consistent this year. His best finish so far is 43rd at Cumberland, and he’ll need to replicate that at least a couple of times the rest of the season to move up and make the Cup. Upshaw has a very up-and-down relationship with the Tennessee River, but Kentucky Lake looks like his best shot at a really good finish. Heading up north to St. Clair could be a big challenge, and it’s certainly new ground for the Oklahoma pro.
The comeback kids
There are some big names sitting outside the cut at the moment, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see any or all of them go on a tear the rest of the way. Larry Nixon (51st, 516 points) and Michael Neal (52nd; 516 points) are usually sure things, and they could both move up with good performances the rest of the way. In 59th with 498 points, Andy Morgan seems to have broken out of his slump and looks poised to run up the ranks. In 64th, JT Kenney has made the Cup each of the last two seasons and is in danger of missing it for only the third time since 2007.