Shocker! Taj goes down to unknown Brazilian, Kelly now looking to clinch #8 in Spain

EVENTS HELD: Heats 12-16 of Round 2, All of Round 3
CONDITIONS: 2-4 feet, offshore in the morning, trashed in the afternoon
NATURE’S CALL: Could be similar tomorrow
PREDICTIONS: A Kelly/Andy final has to happen at least once this year, might as well go down here.

Taj Burrow versus Perdro Henrique in Round 3. Taj is #2 in the world, Pedro is #42. The surf is small, windy, tricky. Taj opts to surf a semi-closed out right while Pedro goes for the rip bowl lefts. Taj gets an okay right that scores a 7.83. It’s a bit of a gift, but hey, the judges love the guy especially in waves like this. A few minutes later Pedro tears the bag out a peeling left and scores 8.1. Suddenly this has become interesting. Taj’s mates cry foul and root on their boy to shut this guy down. Taj stays patient and waits out the back, determined to play it smart and not panic on this, his second serious run at a world title. Pedro gets another wave. Hold on. What was that? One massive, inverted, fins out, snapping air, then another. The two best maneuvers of the day in quick succession. Kelly’s bro, Todd Kline, smells blood in the water. “Something’s about to go down right here,” he says.

Pedro’s score? An unthinkable 7.27. The wave was at least a point better than his 8 and everyone knows it. Kelly Slater, doing commentary for the webcast, says he’s going to call the head judge personally to complain. “That was bullshit,” says Fred Patacchia backstage. “Pedro flared so hard on that one.” Taj’s mates are conspicuously silent.

But what happens? Nothing. Taj, still behind, doesn’t get anotherscore-able wave. He holds priority but gets pushed deeper into a rip by the now flexing Pedro. Taj’s girlfriend holds her hands in prayer in the

Competitors’ area but no waves come through. The horn blows. 30 secondslater the wave Taj was looking for finally arrives and he tears it to pieces. Doesn’t matter, too late.

Taj comes in, doesn’t look at anyone, just steams. He punches a hole in his board. It’s an understandable reaction. He holds the mantle as best surfer never to win a title and now it isn’t looking it’s going to happen this year, either. Every heat Kelly wins tomorrow will put him farther ahead. If Kelly wins, he’ll be have a nearly unassailable lead of 1300 points over Taj.

And Andy? He’s still in there having destroyed Adrian Buchan today while riding a board he called “magic.” He’s won this event three times in a row and no one would be surprised if he makes it a fourth tomorrow.

To do so he might have to get through Kelly. And if even if he does, say he beats Kelly in the final? Kelly will still be far out in front of Andy. Spain, yes, Spain. That soon. Depending on what happens tomorrow, #8 could happen there.

After so much pressure and so many spectacular/uneven performances last year, Kelly’s smoothed it all out and let it all go. Every event the chips seem to fall his way. Today they did against Jeremy Flores with the youngster who nearly beat him last year nearly doing it again today. But nearly doesn’t count. With a few minutes left, Jeremy needed a 7.5 and got a 7. It was a fair score and no one complained.

The truth is Kelly’s leading the way again because he’s not feeling the pressure anymore. Finally getting #7 took all of that away. On Tuesday, after a day of golf in Spain, he said, “I feel way more relaxed. In a way it was nice to win the title (last year). I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself. Now that I did that I’m totally satisfied with the way my career has been so far. You know, if I don’t win another title, great, but if I do that’s fine too…That pressure is now pretty much gone.”

And, win or lose, this year is likely to be it for him. “I don’t envision myself being on tour much longer,” he said. “I like the people I go around with and the places I go, but the tour? I could honestly do without it.”

So that’s it. This could be his last go. Enjoy it while it lasts.