Is it too early to be a talking about World Title implications ahead of the men's Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Men's Quarterfinals? For Jordy Smith, Kolohe Andino and Adriano de Souza, the answer is no.
That trio find themselves on the other side of the draw to Owen Wright and John John Florence, the only two surfers left who nailed a Semifinal or better at the Quik Pro Gold Coast. Their continued good form, plus a string of upsets, means they now have the chance to extend their leads.
The early rounds saw the upset losses in Western Australia of Matt Wilkinson, Gabriel Medina, Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson, all who did fifth or better at Snapper. When you add the early exits of Mick Fanning and the absence of Italo Ferreira, who's injured, Wright and Florence now have the chance to build an early substantial ratings lead that could possibly develop into a two-horse race.
Andino, Smith and de Souza are therefore desperate to stay in touch. While they have already improved on their 9th-place finishes at the Gold Coast, they know that World Titles aren't won with 9th and 5ths. Last year John John made an incredible four finals, winning two of them on the way to a World Title. The year before, De Souza did the same. That's the level of high-end consistency that you need to go all the way.
Now John John and Owen's progress isn't guaranteed as they face tough matchups against Jack Freestone and Michel Bourez, respectively. And even if they do get through those, a Semifinal meet-up means only one can get through to the Final.
The chasing pack will also remember last year, when a blistering start by Matt Wilkinson in the Australian leg led to a big ratings lead that was eventually hauled in. However, they'd be loathe to give Wright, and especially Florence, that type of head start.
The first step in stopping that happening comes in the Quarterfinals. Last year's World No. 2, Jordy Smith takes on the No. 4, Andino. Andino hasn't lost a heat yet at Margaret River, while Smith found his best form in Round Five. The winner, on paper at least, should be best equipped to go all the way to the Final.
Adriano de Souza has also been back to his World Title-year winning form, and has posted 17.67 and 16.83 in his last two heats. A Quarterfinal win over Filipe Toledo is no given, but his knowledge of the break and power-based surfing that suits the wave will see him as favorite. Again if, and it's a big if, he gets through, he could then put a dent in either Smith's or Andino's chase as well.
Margaret River of course is only the second event, and no doubt we will see World Title fortunes chop and change as the Tour travels the world, but the Quarterfinals here could be decisive. Will the front two get some serious breathing space heading into Bells, or can the pack keep them in sight for now? You'll have watch to find out.