Ernie Banks, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Ty Cobb, Steve Nash, Clifford Pirch.

Clifford Pirch?

Why is the Rim Country’s favorite tournament angler mentioned in the same breath as these professional greats?

It’s because they all have something in common — none has won a world championship.

Like Banks, Barkley, Baylor and Nash, Pirch has enjoyed his share of winning. He’s a three-time champion of the U.S. Open on Lake Mead, has chalked up 23 top-10 tournament finishes, qualified for five FLW championship tournaments, was third last year at the Bassmaster on Lake Oahe and has career earnings of more than $1 million.

But the Bassmaster Classic Championship, the granddaddy of fishing, is the one title that has eluded him.

The former Payson High School three-sport star has, however, finished in the top 20 on three of the past five Classics.

The opportunity to finally nail down an elusive Classic crown begins Friday, March 15, when he competes in his sixth consecutive “Super Bowl of fishing” to be contested on the Tennessee River near Knoxville.

Being a western angler, Pirch will be at a disadvantage as those from the Eastern part of the country traditionally dominate. Skeet Reese’s victory in 2009 was the last time a western pro won.

Pirch showed signs early this season that he is primed for a run at his first classic title with his 34-pound, 9-ounce limit on Day 3 of this season’s opening Elite tournament on the St. John’s River.

If he can duplicate those efforts, the Rim pro will be cashing his first Elite championship check, one likely to be in excess of $300,000.

The tournament continues Saturday and wraps up with the championship weigh-in Sunday afternoon at the University of Tennessee.

The tournament will air on ESPN.

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