ARLINGTON, Texas – Tim O’Connell knew the 2020 National Finals Rodeo was going to be a battle.
Tough bucking horses and 15 great bareback riders are part of the show, and that means every jump out of the chute can be big time for just about anybody. After faltering a bit in the third round, the three-time world champion rebounded with a 90.5-point ride on Fettig Pro Rodeo’s Pop A Top to win Sunday’s Round 5.
“(Saturday) night wasn’t near what I wanted to do,” said O’Connell, 29, of Zwingle, Iowa. “I had a great horse underneath me (Sunday). It gave me an opportunity to show off and show out, and that’s exactly what I wanted. We’re in this thing.
“I’ve had this No. 1 spot in the world all year, and I don’t ever plan to give it up.”
He entered the NFR atop the world standings, but four-time world champion Kaycee Feild had gained ground after Round 3 – Feild pulled to within $1,900 prior to Sunday’s round. By collecting the $26,231 first-place payout, O’Connell extended his lead.
There are six rounds remaining to decide this year’s world championship.
“Kaycee and I are going to have a slugfest, but he’s not the only one in this thing,” said O’Connell, the 2015 national champion bareback riding champion at Missouri Valley College who earned world titles in 2016-18. “There are a lot of guys in this, and people forget it. There are four or five guys that are real players in tis race, and we’re not even to the halfway point.
“I feel confident in my riding; I feel confident in my mind. I’ve got my joy back riding bucking horses, and we’re ready to roll.”
It helped to have a horse like Pop A Top, one of the few horses that are at the NFR that O’Connell hasn’t ridden.
“I knew he was going to be a shot, especially when I saw him,” he said. “He’s a really built, thicker stud with a shorter back and a little bit smaller. I’d seen him buck, and he’s so electric. He really gave it to me that first jump out of the chute. He fed it right back to me, and I fed it right back to him.
“After about that second spur stroke, I knew he was going to take the spur stroke I was going to put to him, so I just let it go after that.”
It was a veteran move, but it’s also why O’Connell is on track for his fourth Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.