Reigning world champion Andy Irons (Kauai, Haw) today survived a tie-breaking decision over Japanese wildcard Masatoshi Ohno in the Niijima Quiksilver Pro.The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) again relocated to ‘Secret Point’ where all of round three was completed in great conditions. Clean 3-4ft (1-1.3m) waves remained on offer throughout the afternoon, with split banks being utilized for half the round so simultaneous heats could make the most of available swell. A strong beach crowd made the journey along Habushiura Beach to enjoy the surfing show and beautiful sunny day on Niijima Island. Irons, who leads the ASP ratings following his WCT wins in Australia and more recently Fiji last tournament, was pushed to the limit by wildcard Ohno. The Kauaian opened with the heat’s best ride for an 8.5, and then locked in a 6.0 to hold a comfortable lead. His opponent chipped away at the gap however, and with less than a minute remaining paddled into set wave needing a 7.76 to win. The goofyfooter rose to the occasion with a great ride and got the crowd cheering, but unfortunately his score came in at 7.75-points and the pair were actually tied on two waves. A single score countback was required, sealing Irons’ nerve-wracking victory.”That was really stressful,” admitted Irons afterwards. “When that set started coming in and ‘Mars’ was paddling, it just looked like mini Jeffrey’s Bay (SAfr). I was just hoping there was another one and didn’t even watch his wave. I couldn’t get the next good one and didn’t know what he scored, but could just hear the crowd going mad. It was really, really close. “The wildcards stress me out and it’s really hard to surf against them,” he continued. “They just go for it, and ‘Mars’ is such an unreal talent. The kid surfs so well, and I can see him on tour in a couple of years. He’s that good, but I was just really lucky. Hopefully it’s not so close next heat.” Despite being narrowly defeated, Ohno was quick to point out how beneficial the WCT experience against the world’s best has been to his career. “I was a little nervous when I took off on that last wave,” admitted Ohno. “I should have fit in one more turn and then I may have gotten the score. It was a really good experience for me just being out there though.” 2001 world champion {{{CJ}}} Hobgood (FL, USA) amassed the best single and highest combined scores of the day to oust Chris Davidson (Aus) in a great battle. The Floridian opened with an 8.5 and then earned a 9.1 on his last ride for the impressive win. Nonetheless, ‘Davo’ also surfed superbly and would have most other heats today with his scores. “The waves just happened to pick up and get a lot better for our heat,” explained Hobgood. “Davo had a couple of really good waves, but it came down to that exchange at the end. I thought his wave might be a little better than mine, but I also knew I’d bettered my 7, so I was just hoping it would turn out my way. He got an 8.5 and I scored a 9.1, so that was the difference.”Six-time world champion Kelly Slater continued the Floridian charge with a convincing victory over Armando Daltro (Brz). The 31-year-old appeared out of sync at the start of the clash as his Brazilian opponent picked off better waves and gave them a good work over, but then Slater turned on with some great maneuvers and two high scores for a total of 16-points. He’ll next face 1999 world champ Mark Occhilupo (Gold Coast, Aus) in a highly anticipated match-up, following his win over fellow Australian Trent Munro (Scott’s Head) this afternoon. “I told myself to be patient and wait for the bigger sets, but it started off in his favor,” recalled Slater. “He was deeper on the first set and it put him right in sync with the better waves. Luckily it turned and I ended up getting two good-sized sets and it went my way. I’m stoked. Before this contest I was thinking of pulling out (due to his foot injury), but now I’ve made it through to the fourth round, so it feels good.

“I hope the waves stay really small,” he joked, of facing ‘Occy’ next. “I’ve got this little skatey board and it’ll be good for me (laughs). He’ll definitely be harder if the swell comes up.” Danny Wills (Byron Bay, Aus) eliminated Neco Padaratz (Brz) with another strong performance. The Brazilian created a good lead following his first two rides, but the diminutive Wills secured a 6.75 on his final ride, adding to his earlier 8.75 to advance. He now faces world #2 Joel Parkinson (Gold Coast, Aus), after he managed to defeat replacement surfer Ben Bourgeois (USA) at the end of their close match. “He’s pretty intense in the water,” said Wills, of Padaratz. “But he’s such an unbelievable competitor. I blew one chance at priority and I thought it might cost me, but I calmed down and just played it cool. I was patient and a good one came luckily, and I got the score I needed.” Mick Fanning (Gold Coast, Aus) ended Tim Curran’s (CA, USA) hopes of defending his 1999 Japanese title with another at the Niijima Quiksilver Pro. The Californian took the lead on his final 7.33 ride, but then as the dying seconds elapsed, Fanning stood with only one second remaining and turned the pressurized wave into a gem, earning an 8.33 and round four berth.