It had been a long wait for the conclusion of Rounds 2 and 3 of the Rip Curl Pro, but as the sun set in Peniche, Portugal, all four remaining world title contenders were still going strong.
At the head of the pack, Mick Fanning is running hard for his third title. Basically all he has left to do is win two more heats and it's over. He's been approaching his heats with a razor-sharp focus, making all the right decisions and looks to be the surfer of the year.
"I guess with anyone you want to put pressure on early to make them try that little bit extra harder," said Fanning after dispatching wildcard Jacob Willcox.
It will take something special to stop him, but Joel Parkinson, Jordy Smith and Taj Burrow all won their respective heats.
"It's a super long shot for me in the World Title race, you don't want to pray for Mick (Fanning) to lose, and I'd have to have two wins or something. I just really hope it goes down to Pipe for me," said Parkinson.
But making this homestretch a little more interesting, as predicted, the winds went onshore and offered up some huge air sections for those willing to launch. If the final day turns into an aerial dogfight Fanning could find himself in more uncomfortable conditions than he's like. Julian Wilson landed a huge front side alley-oop in Round 3 to earn the first 10-point ride of the event. Wilson won a controversial final last year and looks to be on a mission to win again.
"I felt like I bit off more than I could chew when I was in the air on that one, but somehow I pulled it, that section was really really good," said Wilson afterwards. "At that point of the heat I was really quite nervous, I only had one opportunity to do an air, and I was lucky enough to capitalize on it."
Not to be completely outdone, John John Florence put on an incredible performance and stomped a huge front-side full rotation of his own, earning a 9-point ride for the effort. "I kind of had airs on my mind and tried a couple that I didn't pull together, then I got that one and I'm stoked I landed it," said Florence.
On the backend of the ratings, Matt Wilkinson has been struggling this year and is on the verge of not returning to the tour next year. He had an incredibly important heat win against Adriano de Souza to advance to Round 4. For the surfers in his position, every heat win is really important at this stage. For Wilkinson to have a chance at re-qualifying, he needs to duplicate his performance a few more times to put himself in a better position heading into Hawaii.
The conditions look good for the race to finish tomorrow.
UPCOMING RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 4 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Kai Otton (AUS), Julian Wilson (AUS)
Heat 2: Matt Wilkinson (AUS), John John Florence (HAW), Mick Fanning (AUS)
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Nat Young (USA), Josh Kerr (AUS)
Heat 4: Miguel Pupo (BRA), C.J Hobgood (USA), Taj Burrow (AUS)
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 11.84 def. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 11.77
Heat 2: Kai Otton (AUS) 12.57 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 10.77
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.00 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 12.16
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 14.20 def. Adriano De Souza (BRA) 13.73
Heat 5: John John Florence (HAW) 16.97 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 8.83
Heat 6: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.00 def. Jacob Willcox (AUS) 11.53
Heat 7: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.33 def. Frederico Morais (PRT) 12.60
Heat 8: Nat Young (USA) 15.10 def. Sebastien Zietz (HAW) 6.03
Heat 9: Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.67 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 8.83
Heat 10: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 15.40 def. Michel Bourez (PYF) 8.67
Heat 11: C.J Hobgood (USA) 13.50 def. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 12.30
Heat 12: Taj Burrow (AUS) 14.33 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 8.67
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 5: C.J Hobgood (USA) 10.34 def. Yadin Nicol (AUS) 8.00
Heat 6: Kieren Perrow (AUS) 8.03 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 6.33
Heat 7: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 14.66 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 8.10
Heat 8: Damien Hobgood (USA) 13.10 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.13
Heat 9: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 12.83 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 8.33
Heat 10: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 16.26 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 14.27
Heat 11: Adam Melling (AUS) 13.84 def. Travis Logie (ZAF) 10.37
Heat 12: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 17.60 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.93