And Then There Were Two…Fanning and AI Eliminated From Title Contention; Slater Looking at Clinching

Check out the reports from Round 1, Round 2, Round 3.1, Round 3.2

EVENTS HELD: Heats 14-16 of Round 3, All of Round 4, Heats 1-3 of Quarterfinals
CONDITIONS: 3-5 foot shifty beachbreak
NATURE'S CALL: Smaller tomorrow for the finish
PREDICTIONS: 8 Happens Manana

Big day today at Bakio. Where, you say? Not Mundaka, which wasn't really feeling the new swell direction, but Bakio – an average, shifty beachbreak twenty minutes away. With contest organizers needing to run a double digit number of heats, Bakio was the only option. Mundaka is just too unreliable. The competitors were actually stoked - after too many Groundhog Days here and excursions to France to regain sanity, today was finally the day things would happen.

And they did.

The Mick/Joel rematch in the quarters was heavy with the loser surrendering any hope of winning the title this year. The surf actually cooperated for this one - a mid tide right started offering a bouncy, workable wall. Joel seemed to have command from the start, finding the best sections for his effortless snaps while Mick worked too hard on ones that didn't really offer much. Mick came in dejected knowing that it was all but over.

The next heat Kelly made short work of Tom Whitaker. Riding a board he'd never ridden, he looked loose and lively while Whitaker could never find a wave that lined up. Overall, Kelly looks fresh and motivated as ever, which has to be a nightmare to anyone in his way. As he said to me the other day, "I'm here to do a job." And he's doing it with cold precision. He's already locked up at least a third here in a season where he's shown unbelievable consistency. It might not be as spectacular or dramatic as last year, but unlike then, he's been virtually mistake free at every event.

Next heat it was Andy versus Bobby Martinez. Bobby dominated AI. The final result wasn't nearly as close as it looked on paper as most observers thought Bobby had gotten heavily underscored. With five minutes left, Andy only needed a 6.41, but on the pushing tide, the waves shut down. He actually rode his last wave switch stance as if to concede defeat. That's it, done - no chance of a 4th world title for him this year. It's odd to see a guy who can never be counted out go down so early, but Andy hasn't been quite in synch all year. It's as if he still hasn't gotten over coming so close in 05. For him, 2007 starts now.

After the heat, Bobby was elated as he signed autographs and posed for photos on the beach. Asked who he's rooting for to win the world title he responded: "Kelly's always been my favorite so I want him to win."

Tomorrow it just might happen. Parko and Taj are the only contenders remaining. Kelly will have his hands full with a super in-form Parko in the semis whether the contest goes back to Bakio or can run on the low tide at Mundaka. But if Kelly beats him (as he did at Trestles where Parko also looked great), Parko's out. Taj, meanwhile, still has to surf against Dean Morrison (who was super sharp again today) in the quarters and then against Bobby in the semis if he wins. For Taj to have any hope of avoiding title elimination, he has to win this contest or hope Kelly loses to Parko.