In years past, it was a top four that seemed to separate itself from the rest of the women’s leaderboard. This season, there is a pretty clear top three with a couple of different names who have been attempting to stake their claim to the 2018 women’s world title.
With her victory on Friday at the Corona Open J-Bay, Stephanie Gilmore has regained the yellow jersey from Lakey Peterson and is now in the driver’s seat for what could be her seventh career world championship. Gilmore won all five of her heats, including the two three-woman matchups. She went on to top Bronte Macaulay in the quarterfinals and then Tatiana Weston-Webb in the semifinals before the one versus two matchup in the final heat.
It’s now three wins in seven events for Gilmore, who hasn’t lost earlier than a quarterfinal all season. These are the types of seasons she put together at an earlier stage of her career, when the tour wasn’t nearly as deep and talented as it is now. Results like this are obviously still within her capability, but these stretches seemed much less likely given the her competition these days. The 30-year-old has rebuffed that story line while making the title race much narrower than it has recently been.
Just Gilmore, Peterson and Weston-Webb seem to be true contenders at this point with just four events remaining. Gilmore leads Peterson by just over 2,000 points. Weston-Webb still has a good amount of ground to make up, now trailing Gilmore by just over 10,000 points. But Johanne Defay sits in fourth, more than 18,000 points off the pace. That’s a hefty total to overcome and everyone else has at least that much to make up. Tyler Wright, Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks, Sally Fitzgibbons, Nikki Van Dijk and Silvana Lima complete the top 10.
Peterson continues to string together the best season of her career and remains in prime position for her first world title. From start to finish, she may have had the best event of anyone in the field. Her scores in round three and the semifinals were the highest of those particular rounds and her sheer dominance over Buitendag in their semifinal was evident.
While she is behind in total points, Peterson has room to improve. Her ninth-place result at Bells Beach still gives her a low score to replace. Gilmore doesn’t have as much upward potential at the moment, so it is essentially a dead heat up top.
Weston-Webb has been the most consistent surfer on the women’s tour, reaching her fifth consecutive semifinal round. She was phenomenal at times, punctuated by her 18.54 quarterfinal total, blitzing Sage Erickson for the victory. Her only finish worse than third place was a second-round loss in the season opener on the Gold Coast. Getting rid of that score will give her a good bump, but she will probably need at least one contest win at some point for a real shot at the title.
Things are very crowded in the middle of the pack and one or two long shots could still emerge with big finishes to the season. But the top three seem unlikely to give up those positions with how they continue to perform. Right now, Gilmore and Peterson seem to be in a battle for supremacy with Tati remaining within shouting distance.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.