The possibility of Tyler Wright winning a world title in Portugal is very real. She knows it, her opponents know it, and we know it. It's the certain perfect scenario to start turning on the pressure cooker, but Tyler seems oblivious to it all.
In fact, she seems to be surrounded by a protective phalanx sheltering her from the stress of the situation. Tyler is smiling at every turn. She smiles before her heats and she smiles after her heats, she smiles in interviews and she smiles even when talking to her coach Glenn "Micro" Hall.
The smiles continued after she won her Round One heat with ease, beating Teresa Bonvalot and Keely Andrew, who had to compete again in Round Two. Bonvalot is the 16-year-old Portuguese surfer who is leading the Junior Tour in Europe. But she was no match for the in-form tour leader at Guincho, the back-up site for the Cascais Women's Pro. The round also saw Courtney Conlogue advance to Round Three, as well as third-ranked Carissa Moore.
Carissa -- looking fluid and radical, hungry and confident -- was chasing the two runaway surfers ahead of her on the Jeep leaderboard. Tyler has the jump at this stage, with a massive points spread, while Courtney needs to at least shadow Tyler by one round to stay in the game.
Carissa however, is far enough out of the hunt to not feel the pressure weighing her down, and so far that's led to some exuberant performances and huge scores. With only two events left after this one -- the Roxy Pro France and the Maui Women's Pro -- there is nothing to lose, as she is currently nearly 11,000 points behind the leader Tyler.
After a slow start, Tyler smashed her Round Three heat to advance directly to the Quarters at the expense of Sage Erickson and Laura Enever. Her closest Title challenger Courtney Conlogue did exactly the same, coming on with venom at the later stage of their third round heat and getting the jump over a blitzing Sally Fitzgibbons in the final moments of the heat.
The quarters will be where the king-maker heats go down. If Courtney gets eliminated there, then Tyler has to win the event to win the Title in Cascais. If Courtney advances to the Semifinals, the World Title race heads to France.
While we talk about the big hitters from Round Three advancing through to Round Four and the Quarters, the shock elimination of the morning was that of South African Bianca Buitendag.
Sitting at No. 12 going into this event, Bianca desperately needed to bank a big score in Portugal. She needed to get herself back into the Top 10 by the end of this event, and by failing to do so, she might not requalify for the CT with her end-of-year CT ranking.
To make things even tougher, she has not competed on the Qualifying Series (QS) as a back-up route and now faces the grim repercussions. Bianca has had a difficult time lately, including the sudden loss of her dad last year, but she has persevered in the sport she loves. She had a slow heat against Coco however, and was left needing a near-perfect 9.83 at the end of the heat.
Bianca snagged a lucky right at the end of the heat and proceeded to go to town, but after a gigantic hit and two more turns she fumbled and fell, and the wave continued to peel, letting everyone visualize just what Bianca could have done on it.
Coco Ho and Alessa Quizon pounced on the opportunity. Both are in similar situations as Bianca's, needing big pushes late in the season in order to stay on tour. The Hawaiians looked sharp today, slicing through sections with beautiful bursts of speed.
While neither Ho nor Quizon were able to snag the coveted fast-track to the Quarterfinal, they're both alive and kicking in Round Four. Ho will have her hands full with Sage Erickson, while Alessa will be vying to get past Lakey Peterson.
Tune in for the next call for the Cascais Women's Pro Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 am WEST.