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Expect a close finish as Cup returns to Ouachita

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In a city famous for world-class horse racing, don't be surprised if the world championship of professional bass fishing goes down to the wire.

The top 56 anglers on the Fishing League Worldwide circuit are in Hot Springs for the annual Forrest Wood Cup. Lake Ouachita is host to the Cup for the fourth time with launches today and Saturday at 7 a.m. from Brady Mountain Resort & Marina and weigh-ins at 5 p.m. at Bank OZK Arena downtown. Ten finalists compete Sunday for the $300,000 first prize, which will be presented in a weigh-in after a free Justin Moore concert at 4 p.m.

Arkansan Mark Rose ranks as the unofficial pretournament favorite, hoping to add the Cup championship to his Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year title. Rose totaled 1,074 points in seven qualifying tournaments, two top-five finishes included, and secured an automatic berth in the 2019 Cup. Although from West Memphis, Rose has local knowledge with a third-place finish on Lake Ouachita in the 2011 Cup.

"If momentum is as important as everyone says it is, I think it's safe to say that Mark Rose will be right in the hunt," said Brian Johnson, FLW Communications specialist, who picked Rose in an online poll.

Floridian Scott Martin is one of four anglers with a chance to become the first two-time Cup winner. Son of legendary angler Roland Martin, Scott took home the 2011 Cup title, placing fifth in 2015 when the tournament returned to Ouachita. Always confident on local water, Martin comes to Arkansas off a second-place finish to Rose in the AOY standings.

"Martin is known for fishing for schools on Ouachita's vast deep-water structure," said FLW official Jesse Schultz, "and he also knows how to run the banks for cruising summer largemouths."

If one Cup contestant has earned the title Mr. Consistency, it's North Carolina veteran David Dudley, whom FLW's Joe Opager calls "a machine on Lake Ouachita." Although his FLW Cup victory came elsewhere, Dudley has been especially keen on Ouachita with a top-20 finish in all five FLW Tour events fished on the lake, three top-10s included.

"I'm going to make a bold prediction," said Opager, the tour's director of public relations. "This year will be the year we have a repeat champion, and Dudley has as good of a shot as anybody."

Another with a chance to make history is Justin Atkins, the 2017 Cup winner on South Carolina's Lake Murray as an FLW Tour rookie.

The Florence, Ala., angler "has proven convincingly at this point that there isn't any weakness in his game," said FLW digital editor Jody White. "He's scraped up good finishes basically everywhere in just a few years on tour. Last year's Cup win ... went a long way toward showing just how composed Atkins is on the water and how ready he is for the extra pressure of the Cup."

A sentimental favorite, seeking his first Cup title in his 12th-straight appearance, is North Carolina's Bryan Thrift. One of the sport's biggest names, Thrift has finished seventh or better in the tournament since 2012 and would be no surprise.

"He is super good with his electronics and finding brush -- a tactic that has always been a big player on Ouachita -- and he's also crazy efficient at covering water, which can also be the deal," said Kyle Wood, FLW senior editor, in picking Thrift. "Every year seems like a Thrift year to win the Cup, but with the way he's been fishing lately, 2018 seems like the stars are lining up for it to actually happen."

FLW editor in chief Colin Moore picks Michael Neal to continue a recent tradition of unexpected Cup winners, calling the Tennessee angler "a talented guy who still is waiting for his big moment in the sun." Other projected winners in the Cup online poll are Oklahoman Zack Birge and the consistent North Carolina veteran David Williams, who along with Thrift and Cup contestants Jason Lambert (Tennessee), Chris Johnston (Ontario) and Chad Grigsby (Minnesota) won qualifying tournaments.

Along with Rose, Bentonville's Greg Bohannan tries to return the title to Arkansas for the first time since Bryant's Scott Suggs prevailed on Ouachita in 2007. Hot Springs' George Cochran, a two-time Bassmasters Classic champion, won the 2005 FLW Cup on Lake Hamilton.

Sports on 08/10/2018

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