LAS VEGAS – Tim O’Connell’s second world championship is so close he can taste it.
He almost clinched the Montana Silversmith’s gold buckle on Friday night with an 85-point ride on Korkow Rodeo’s Feather Fluffer. He finished in a tie for fifth place in the ninth round, worth $5,500. He owns a lead of more than $91,000 over the No. 2 man, Tanner Aus, but Aus still has a mathematical chance to catch the reigning champ.
“It’s been an amazing finals,” said O’Connell, who battled through sickness earlier in the week to remain atop the world standings and the aggregate race. “I feel like I’ve drawn really well. I feel like I’ve taken advantage of the times I’ve had great horses. They definitely wanted me to work for it in the ‘eliminator’ pens; I had the 2017 horse of the year and the 2016 horse of the year.
“They put the giants in front of me, and I had to fist fight for it.”
He’s also been in a battle with the 14 other bareback riders, who placed a target on his back and gunned for it. That’s why Aus still has a shot to take him down. With one night remaining in the 2017 season, O’Connell know what he needs to do to walk away with gold buckle No. 2. He will be matched with Wayne Vold Rodeo’s Mucho Dinero.
It should be another rank night of bareback riding in Las Vegas.
“There are all those social media people that we don’t have the rankest horses here,” O’Connell said. “Times change, and I really do believe that we did pick the best 105 horses on the planet to come here. The generation, the breeding, the stock contractors … my hat is off to them.
“There is no rodeo in the world that it takes this high of a score to place every night. The guys and the quality of horses is coming together. It’s all matching up.”
He owns a seven-point lead in the average over Richmond Champion heading into the final night of the season.
“Last year I’m pretty sure I was winning the average at this point by 20-some points,” O’Connell said. “I’m pretty sure I’m on pace to break what my average was last year. Other than money, I think I’ve had a better finals than I did last year, because everybody is pushing each other.”
Make no doubt about it, the reigning world champion is pushing himself. That’s what winners do.