PUEBLO, Colo. – The congratulations began to pour in for Jess Lockwood by the time he stepped back inside the locker room at Madison Square Garden.
2016 World Champion Cooper Davis came up to pat Lockwood on the back following his event-winning 91.75-point ride on Prayer Warrior.
It was not too long before PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert and Canadian young gun Lonnie West were also saying congrats to Lockwood.
Lockwood nodded his head with a smile and politely said, “Thanks guys.”
This is nothing new for Lockwood.
He’s been in this position before.
In 2017, he won the season-opening PBR Major in New York to begin his run for the World Championship.
He also began that season with a bad taste in his mouth after going 0-for-6 at the 2016 PBR World Finals.
Lockwood entered New York this year with a bitter taste once again knowing he failed to show up and ride to the best of his abilities in 2018.
A second gold buckle is obviously the objective once again, but his second career victory in New York was different.
Lockwood expected to win this time around. He did not seem nearly as wide-eyed as he was two years ago in the Big Apple.
Not only did Lockwood earn the event win and $118,350 with a career-best ride on Sunday afternoon, but he also went a perfect 5-for-5 at the 2019 season-opening Unleash The Beast event.
Only one other time in Lockwood’s previous three seasons has the 21-year-old ridden five consecutive bulls.
Therefore, does he believe this past weekend was arguably the best performance of his still young career?
“I think so,” Lockwood replied. “That is the highest I have ever (scored) in the PBR. When that is your highest score to win an event, and I rode in the 15/15, so I didn’t fall off a bull all weekend.”
Lockwood earned a career-high 895 points toward the world standings through his victory, and an additional 82.5 points with a second-place finish in the 15/15 Bucking Battle courtesy of his 89-point ride on Udder Lover.
Lockwood picked up 977.5 world points in New York to open up a 572.5-point lead on No. 2 Claudio Montanha Jr. in the world standings.
Lockwood began New York with 88.25 points on Pennsylvania Bandit to tie with Cannon Cravens for the Round 1 victory.
He then kept his success going in Round 2 with 86.5 points on White Lightning.
In Round 3, Lockwood was nearly knocked out of the event when Dream Catcher wrecked him over the front end after he had just ridden the bull for 85 points.
“I knew that bull was going to be good,” Lockwood said. “He didn’t feel as good as I thought he would. He was trying to hook me the whole time instead of trying to buck. He kept getting me to the inside. As soon as I stopped spurring him, he brought me onto his head. The only way I rode him was spurring him. As soon as I stopped to pull my wrap, he did just hammer the crap out of me. I was loopy there, but as soon as I got on my feet that helped me get my center of balance.”
Lockwood was eventually cleared to return to competition by the PBR sports medicine team, and he then dominated Prayer Warrior for a new career-high.
“I have been wanting to get on that bull forever and ride him,” Lockwood added. “I finally got the chance to pick him, and of course I am going to pick him. He is right there and he bucks hard. I loosened up and kind of got in there.”
The fourth-year pro dominated his bulls from beginning to end in New York.
It was an impressive performance from Lockwood after he openly talked about his self-reflection during this past offseason.
His honesty put added attention on him ahead of the weekend, and he made sure to back up his words.
“If I say something, I am not going to lie to you,” Lockwood said. “I am going to do whatever it takes, even if it means getting wrecked out like I did.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray and two-time World Champion Justin McBride liked that Lockwood backed up his words with his riding.
“He said coming into this year he was tired of losing last year,” Murray said. “He wasn’t focused. He wasn’t showing up craving it and wanting to ride. He was in a sophomore slump after his World Championship. He said I am turning it around this year. I am rededicating myself. All of his riding said that is exactly what he is doing.
“He backed it up exactly like that. He backed up the talk with the riding. He left no question about who the best bull rider was leaving the Garden.”
Lockwood joins two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney (three wins) and Valdiron de Oliveira (two wins) as the only riders with multiple event victories inside Madison Square Garden.
“This is the most prestigious to win,” Lockwood said. “There is so much history here. Shoot, to be able to win this two times, I don’t even know what to say, honestly.
Lockwood is 79-for-180 (43.89 percent) with 12 90-point rides and seven event wins in his premier series career.
The Volborg, Montana, bull rider dropped to 38.89 percent a year ago, but he still only converted on 43.75 percent of his attempts in 2017.
Lockwood knows he needs to become more consistent, but part of his struggles the last two seasons have come as a result of multiple groin injuries.
“I feel like I am a lot smarter than I was that year (2017),” Lockwood said. “Shoot, when I got hurt in February and had to sit out until April, it was because I got stepped on the week before and I figured I would be good to ride. But I knew in my mind I kind of wasn’t, but I could tough it through. Well that was stupid. Take the time you need to heal up. If I would have taken time this last fall, two more weeks, and I could have been healed and not missed two more months.”
Lockwood was seventh in the world standings last year before having to miss the final two months of the regular season because of a torn right groin. He had missed five weeks in 2017 because of a torn left groin.
For now, Lockwood is healthy and feeling better than ever ahead of this weekend’s Chicago Invitational.
Fans can watch Round 1 on RidePass at 7:45 p.m. ET and CBS Sports Network at 10 p.m. ET.
“I feel like nothing can buck me off right now, and that is the best feeling in the world,” Lockwood concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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