OGDEN -- Justin McDaniel has some catching up to do.
But with big money Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos at Spanish Fork, Salinas, Calif., and Cheyenne, Wyo., under way or on the horizon, McDaniel still has a shot of qualifying for December's 53rd annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
McDaniel, the 2008 world bareback riding champion and last year's reserve bareback riding champion, is ranked No. 30 with $19,569. Only the top 15 in the world standings as of Sept. 30 advance to the Wrangler NFR.
"I could jump back into the top 15 after this week," the 24-year-old McDaniel said. "I'm not worried about it, and I'm drawing good now."
McDaniel, of Porum, Okla., went to just three rodeos before being injured at RodeoHouston in March. He cracked back out the first of June.
"I had some issues with my right (riding hand) and my left (free arm) shoulder," he said. "Injuries are a part of rodeo. I've broken or tore everything over the years."
McDaniel underwent back surgery Feb. 5, 2010, in Tulsa, Okla., to repair two herniated disks.
He came back later that year to win the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo aggregate title with 8361aN2 points on 10 head.
McDaniel placed in eight consecutive rounds from Round 2 to Round 9, winning $103,189 in Las Vegas -- $44,910 for sweeping the aggregate -- and finishing the year with $185,039.
The aggregate victory propelled him from ninth place before the Wrangler NFR to second place behind Bobby Mote.
McDaniel also swept the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo aggregate title in his 2008 world champion year with a record 859 points on 10 head.
"I only rodeoded three months last year and still finished second," McDaniel said. "If I would have won Round 10 and Bobby Mote didn't place, I would have won the world title."
Mote finished fifth, McDaniel didn't place in Round 10 and Mote captured the world title with $204,484.
In Thursday's second performance of the 78th annual Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo, McDaniel scored 84 points atop Smart Water, of Stace Smith Pro Rodeos.
Smart Water is a 10-year gelding that Smith bought three years ago.
"I had him at Springdale (Ark., Rodeo of the Ozarks on June 29-July 2) and missed his neck," McDaniel said. "I spurred over his neck there; I didn't do that tonight. He's a handful, that's for sure. You have a chance to win on him, but you have to do your job. If not, he'll buck you off.
"A lot of guys don't like to ride him. It's hard to predict what he is going to do," he said. "He is hard to track with no set pattern. I kind of stayed a little closer tonight and didn't expose myself as much."
Out of a left-hand delivery, Smart Water stayed close to Ogden Pioneer Stadium's bucking chutes.
"He circled to the left, then made a big circle and stayed real close to the chutes. The closer the better, and the judges can see what is going on the closer the horse is to the chutes."
Had McDaniel had his choice, he would have taken Smith's RD Mercer, a 2010 Wrangler NFR horse.
"I've had him twice before," McDaniel said. "One time he made me look stupid and the other time I placed on him at the finals."
McDaniel didn't enter the Days of '47 Rodeo at West Valley City, and he had to turn out Tuesday at Nampa, Idaho (Snake River Stampede) for a funeral.
He is up tonight at Spanish Fork and hits Salinas, Calif., on Saturday and Sunday, if he makes Sunday's short round.
McDaniel rides at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Monday and Tuesday.