With some competitors still on the sideline due to injury, Sebastian Zietz has again been given a chance to add to his Championship Tour ledger.
The men hit their third continent of the season (plus Oceania) at the storied J-Bay Open in South Africa. The forecast seems sporadic for the waiting period, meaning the will they, won’t they question will likely be a daily adventure.
But one thing for certain is Zietz’s inclusion in all six CT contests so far. Entering J-Bay ranked sixth in the world, Seabass is coming off a throwaway result in Fiji. He was also an early casualty at last week’s Ballito Pro on the Qualifying Series, so the CT remains his best chance to rejoin next year’s world tour and he’s still in great position to do just that.
His week starts off in round one against Michel Bourez and Stu Kennedy, though the first round hasn’t been Zietz’s forte this year. He’s come up big in his elimination matchups but he’s yet to win an opening-round heat.
Kennedy hasn’t quite matched the storybook start he had to 2016 when he knocked out Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Zietz and John John Florence for a third-place result on the Gold Coast. But this is definitely a trio capable of producing any of three winners. I think Seabass gets a late score to edge Bourez.
Medina and Florence have won the past two events as everyone begins to creep closer to points leader Matt Wilkinson, but Wilko made the final in Fiji for the third time this season. That was a big statement that the Aussie isn’t just a rabbit who’s set to fade down the stretch.
Round one’s most interesting heat might be Caio Ibelli, Joel Parkinson and Jeremy Flores. Ibelli dropped three spots after Fiji, but he’s currently eighth in the world after reaching round five in the first four contests of the year. Parkinson has missed the past two contests with injury, but was looking like his old self on the Aussie leg with a pair of finals day results. Flores has had a miserable CT campaign, but he just took third at the Ballito Pro and desperately needs to pick up some momentum. I like Parko to emerge and move straight to round three.
After taking a couple of contests off, Mick Fanning returned in Fiji, reaching the quarterfinals. He’s back at it again at J-Bay and kicks things off in the very first heat against Conner Coffin and Alejo Muniz. Despite missing two events, Fanning is currently still 16th in the world and should move up this week.
It’s becoming do or die time for Oahu’s Keanu Asing, who is in serious danger of not re-qualifying. After ending the year ranked 20th in 2015, Asing has only won a single heat this year. He’s in 36th place and must start stringing together some results if he has any hope for a 2017 season. He had success at J-Bay last year, reaching the fifth round. Asing will probably have to make the fifth round in every contest remaining, or he’ll need at least one run to the semis or better to have any chance at returning. He’ll start against Florence and Kanoa Igarashi in round one.
J-Bay occurs in prime time and overnight for us, so it’s okay to show up for work a little bleary eyed for the next 10 days. I’ll write you a note.