PUEBLO, Colo. – Jess Lockwood felt the anxiousness and excitement inside the locker room when he first rolled into the BOK Center on Saturday afternoon.
Lockwood placed his gear back on the floor and began getting his rope ready next to fellow World Champion contender Derek Kolbaba and reigning World Champion Cooper Davis.
To Lockwood’s right was the Brazilian world leaders Eduardo Aparecido and Kaique Pacheco unpacking at their individual lockers.
Aparecido was beaming his pearly whites after taking the summer off to rest and rejuvenate.
Pacheco flashes his confident grin as he chatted with three-time World Champion Silvano Alves.
Meanwhile, Chase Outlaw and Stormy Wing had a swagger in their own steps as they rolled on into the locker room. Across from them, Matt Triplett had his stereotypical headphones on as he focused in on the task that lay ahead.
These eight riders, and a slew of others, all arrived in Tulsa believing they have what it takes to make a run at the world title.
However, it was the youngest dog in the race that took the first big bite to kick off the stretch run to the 2017 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Lockwood’s 89.25-point ride on Pick-It Construction’s Find Jesus in the Built Ford Tough Championship capped off a perfect 3-for-3 winning-performance during a weekend where the majority of the world title contenders all stepped up.
“It is just a different feeling coming off the summer break,” Lockwood said. “Everyone is ready to make a run at the world title, while at the beginning of the year it almost starts a little slow it feels like and everyone is just there. This time of the season it is determination, and it is time to make a run at the world title.”
Combined with his sensational 87.5-point ride on Seven Dust in the 15/15 Bucking Battle, Lockwood earned 635 points toward the world standings.
Lockwood moved up to No. 3 in the world standings and trails Aparecido by 340 points heading into this weekend’s Built Ford Tough Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires, in Nashville. The bracket-style event is the final PBR Major of the season.
The 19-year-old had barreled out of the start gate in January by winning the season-opener at Madison Square Garden and followed that up with another victory later that month in Sacramento, California.
Lockwood then went dry as he tore his groin, missed five weeks and failed to regain his earlier-season form during the final events of the first half.
In Tulsa, Lockwood showed the kid that was a bat out of hell in January has returned, doing so in a big way.
While his ride on Seven Dust in the 15/15 Bucking Battle was certainly a turning point in the second-year pro’s career, his ride at the conclusion of the night also showed signs of his maturation as a bull rider.
Lockwood didn’t rest in his laurels of finally covering one of the rankest bulls in the PBR.
Instead, he carried that momentum into Championship Sunday.
Lockwood first rode Force Awaken for 85.25 points to head into the championship-round draft leading the event.
He then watched on as seven riders ahead of him all came through with qualified rides in the final round to knock him out of the lead.
The 2016 Rookie of the Year wasn’t fazed about the event being on the line.
He took of care business with ease.
“Last year, I struggled with it kind of,” Lockwood admitted. “It would come down to me as the last one to go in the short round. I would be winning the event and then I choked. I will admit it. I wasn’t mature enough. Now I feel I am mature enough for those big pressure situations. I have handled them this year so far at a couple of events. It feels good. I am just handling it well.”
Find Jesus and Lockwood had been two of the stronger performers during the summer break.
J.W. Hart’s bovine athlete was coming off an impressive 44-point outing in Allen, Texas, where he bucked off No. 2 Pacheco in less than 2 seconds.
“That is just about what I thought it was going to be,” Hart said. “I thought the bull would have been a little better. He has been a little better here lately. Not that he would have bucked off Jess. Either way, he was going to ride him.
“I thought Lockwood looked really special in the 15/15. He drew right in the rounds and drafted right in the championship round. He has his mind right.”
Lockwood now leads the PBR with a 60-percent riding percentage (6-for-10) in the championship round and 15/15 Bucking Battles for riders with a minimum of 10 appearances. His six rides also has him tied for third for most qualified rides in the two rounds.
Lockwood’s four rides gave him more this past weekend in Tulsa then in the final two months of the first half.
Hart added that two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney’s season-ending injury has given the World Champion contenders an added sense of confidence for the final three months of the season.
You take out one of the greatest bull riders of all time from the game and the playing field changes.
“When J.B. came up hurt, it was like a sigh of relief from the Top 10 guys,” Hart said. “Maybe now I do have a chance because we got one vulture out of there. They are all kind of re-sparked and thinking about it coming in.”
Lockwood was at the Calgary Stampede for Mauney’s injury. He said he knew it was a bad injury when Mauney had to be helped out of the arena on a backboard.
Lockwood had hoped Mauney only dislocated his shoulder, but later learned Mauney had to undergo surgery.
Does Lockwood think it is now easier without Mauney around?
“It works both ways,” Lockwood said. “There are going to be more points available with him not there getting those round wins, but also without him there he won’t push you to pick the Bruisers, Seven Dusts and the big-name bulls. We just have to treat it the same like he is there and pick the rankest ones in there that we know we can ride.
“We are just going to have to have that J.B. Mauney mentality. He isn’t going to be there, so someone is going to have to take it over.”
The win ties Lockwood with Aparecido for the most wins in the PBR.
The current Top-3 in the world standings – Aparecido, Pacheco and Lockwood – all have won a PBR Major this season.
If either of the three win the Music City Knockout on Saturday night, it will help them go a long way into potentially winning the 2017 world title.
One rider can win a maximum of 1,205 world points through the regular bracket. If a rider were to be eliminated in Round 4, but then sweep the competition via the Second Chance Bracket, he could earn 1,265 points.
Lockwood isn’t going to approach the weekend that way, though.
“Every weekend determines the world title race,” Lockwood concluded. “You have to step up every single weekend. It don’t matter if it is a Major or 15/15. The odds are there every single time.
“You have to make do with it.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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