LAS VEGAS – There’s a storm brewing in Las Vegas, and three-time world champion bareback rider Tim O’Connell is in the middle of it.
After a slow start to this year’s National Finals Rodeo, he started to heat up in Monday’s fifth go-round and continued to simmer on Night 6. He rode the Cervi Brothers Ain’t No Angel for 85.5 points to finish in a three-way tie for third place, worth $11,466.
“That was a huge check back in my rookie year (at the NFR),” said O’Connell, who first qualified in 2014. “It was a big deal.”
It still is, especially for the Iowa cowboy now living in Marshall, Missouri. It was the third time in six nights that he’s captured a payday, and he’s gaining momentum with every ride.
“I had won a round on that horse in 2018 in the ninth round,” O’Connell said. “I was pretty tickled to have him. He didn’t have the same trip, but it was pretty close. He normally goes three or four (jumps), then circles left. He went down the wall with me a little bit to me, but I got a little opened up by the end.”
With his spot among the top, he pushed his NFR earnings to $35,400. He’s dropped two spots to fourth in the world standings with $191,456.
Meanwhile, his traveling posse of Jess Pope and Cole Franks have stayed hot. Both men have placed in five of six rounds. On Tuesday, Franks tied O’Connell with 85.5; Pope did one better, finishing second in the round with an 87.5
“I don’t mind it,” O’Connell said. “I’d rather be the guy on top, but I don’t mind it when the other guys that are beating me are my traveling partners. If I’m going to get beat by my friends, I want to get beat by my real good friends. I spend a lot of time with Cole and Jess.”
He’s made a few changes in his riding style this week, and it’s paying off. He admitted a couple days ago that he’d been pressing, trying to do too much, and it didn’t work.
“I was just trying to win here,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m making these anxious mistakes anymore. I’m going at them. I’m not leaving anything on the table. At this point, it is what it is. I’m going out fighting. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down swinging.”
The mindset change came during the fifth round, when he rode Pete Carr’s Good Time Charlie to place.
“Charlie really turned my week around; he really turned my mind around,” O’Connell said. “I feel good. I feel relaxed on the back of the bucking chutes. I feel at home right now. I was pretty happy with how all phases of the ride went. You can’t be too upset when you are trying to win against these guys; it’s tough.
“There are four rounds left. Don’t get me hot in Vegas, because I will take it all. If you run four really good horses underneath me, that will play ball back with me, you’re going to see me with a gold buckle at the end of this thing. I am coming, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. I’m ready to be a four-time world champion. I will leave it all out there.”