FORT WORTH, Texas - Tyler Willis has started this season the way he finished 2011.
Fresh from a strong debut performance in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last month, Willis covered two bulls for 169.5 points at the Fort Worth Xtreme Bulls Division 2 event to win the title by a mere half-point over L.J. Jenkins.
Willis, 21, tied for sixth place overall in the first round with a score of 85 points and was third in the short-go with an 84.5 to finish with total earnings of $6,482.
"It's great," Willis told the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune. "I didn't have much luck at Denver or Odessa (Texas), so to start the winter rodeos like this is pretty great."
Willis, Jenkins and Tag Elliott, of Thatcher, Utah, were the only three competitors among 80 who completed two qualified rides over the two-night event.
Jenkins won the short go with an 88-point ride on 4L & Diamond S Rodeo's Cyber Cat after Nile Lebaron claimed the first round with a score of 87.5 points on another 4L & Diamond S bull, Hey Buddy.
Willis, a quiet ranch-raised cowboy, already has a winner's résumé. The two-time Wyoming state high school bull riding champion started his pro career in 2009 with one of the most coveted titles: the PRCA Resistol Bull Riding Rookie of the Year award. He closed out that season with a win at the Heartland ProRodeo Championships in Waco, Texas.
But 2011 was when Willis hit it big - qualifying for his first Wrangler NFR, placing third overall in Las Vegas and finishing sixth in the world.
"I had a great year and it got me to the finals," Willis said, "then I had a great Finals. You can't ask for more than that."
Willis and his traveling partners are headed to Rapid City, S.D., for the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo, but will return to Fort Worth, on Feb. 1, to compete in the PRCA rodeo. "I'd sure like to win the rodeo too," said Willis.