Florence falls in final as de Souza wins Margie’s for gold jersey

Even after a pair of subpar results, a win Thursday would have pushed John John Florence into the top five for the season. But while his surfing was lethal as always, a few late falls kept a couple of potentially huge scores out of the excellent range and he had to settle for a runner-up finish at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro. Brazil’s Adriano de Souza came away with a 17.53 to 16.87 win to move into the world’s No. 1 ranking. He’ll grab the gold jersey after three top-three results Down Under.

Florence was eyeing his first contest win since last year’s Quiksilver Pro France, but the second-place result will still propel him 13 spots up the leaderboard into eighth place for the season. He was a third-round casualty in each of the first two Australian legs but his success at Margaret River will keep the Oahu prodigy among the contenders.

It’s been a strange start to the year. Three events, three different winners. de Souza is the only competitor who’s made two finals and he’s opened up a sizable lead over the rest of the field, but there are still eight contests remaining.

The final was textbook contest surfing for de Souza. He started off with an 8.93 just minutes after the opening horn. Florence quickly countered, but he wasn’t able to finish his wave cleanly, opening his account with a 7.00. John John jumped in front with a beautiful wave, but he again came unstuck at the end and had to settle for a 7.83. That score would have likely eclipsed the nine-point mark had he managed to ride out of it, but it left de Souza needing only a six to recapture the lead.

The Brazilian remained patient and paddled into a set wave, showing beautiful wraps and committing to a vertical finish, stomping the landing to move back ahead with an 8.60. Florence now needed a 9.66, but he improved his situation with a 9.00. It was another high-performance wave and the first that John John emerged from cleanly. He crept closer to the lead and was looking for an 8.53 to take the title, but de Souza held him off with priority and the horn sounded to end the day’s action.

The win is de Souza’s first since Bells Beach in 2013. He’s never finished higher than fifth for a Championship Tour season, but he’s been the preeminent surfer in 2015. Some of the names we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in finals have stumbled out of the blocks. Gabriel Medina, last year’s world champ, sits in 16th place after a second-round loss at Margie’s. Kelly Slater made the quarterfinals for the first time this year, but he’s currently tied for ninth place. Mick Fanning, Filipe Toledo, Julian Wilson and Nat Young round out the top five after de Souza.

Young made the semifinals at both Bells and Margie’s, though he lost his Thursday heat to Florence. It was a dominating session for John John, who had Young in a combo and went on to win 16.87 to 12.90. de Souza got past local veteran Taj Burrow in the second semifinal, coming back with his final two waves for a 13.66 to 13.27 win.

Kilauea’s Sebastian Zietz made the fifth round for the first time this year and earns an Equal Ninth place. He jumps from 21st into a tie for 14th as the tour now moves to South America for the Rio Pro.

The runner-up showing for Florence was the second such result for the Aloha State in Western Australia. In Tuesday’s women’s final, Carissa Moore lost to Courtney Conlogue. It was the first heat loss for Moore in 2015, as she was hoping to win the season’s first three contests and four overall on the CT. But Conlogue’s win keeps things interesting. Moore still has a firm grasp on first place with Conlogue and Stephanie Gilmore in the next two spots.

Tatiana Weston-Webb sits in seventh place after her quarterfinal appearance and Malia Manuel jumps into eighth after she reached the semifinals.

Both tours head to Brazil for the Rio Pro, which will begin May 11.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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