A-pluses for the F’s: Florence, Fitzgibbons take Margies titles

The lay days were certainly justified as the final two days of the waiting period produced clean conditions and plenty of opportunities for the world’s best to perform in title waves.

Friday and Saturday saw the conclusions for both the men and women at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, with Sally Fitzgibbons picking up the win on home soil and John John Florence recapturing the yellow jersey with his first victory of 2017. Fitzgibbons outworked the final trio of Aussie wahine, topping Stephanie Gilmore in the semifinal before outlasting defending world champ Tyler Wright for the crown.

It’s been a long time coming for Fitzgibbons, who hadn’t earned a Championship Tour win since the 2015 Fiji Pro. Having been a fixture in the top three or four every year, Fitzgibbons dropped all the way to eighth in the rankings last season. She made just two semifinals throughout all of 2016, but her hot start to 2017 has her tied with Gilmore for the points lead early on.

It was a true showcase for Fitzgibbons as she had the toughest road of any competitor in the field. In her four elimination heats, she bested Tatiana Weston-Webb, Carissa Moore, Gilmore and Wright. That’s 10 combined world titles and an absolute gauntlet to survive. No matter how great she is, Fitzgibbons was an underdog to survive that quartet.

But everything came together perfectly and she’s now squarely back in the title hunt. Other than a narrow win over Gilmore, who couldn’t seem to find a worthy backup score needing just a 4.43, there wasn’t anything flukey about the outcome. Fitzgibbons simply outsurfed everyone, earning high point totals in multiple rounds. Margaret River has historically been a strong event for her, but she fell in last year’s quarterfinals. This is a solid rebound performance.

Wright moves into third place on the season, with Moore and Nikki Van Dijk tied for fourth place having each made the quarterfinals on both stops so far. Johanne Defay, Lakey Peterson, Courtney Conlogue, Keely Andrew and Sage Erickson round out the top 10.

Malia Manuel and Weston-Webb sit in 11th and 12th place, respectively, with eight events still remaining to vault up the rankings.

For the men, we’re once again looking at Florence in the CT driver’s seat. The Oahu phenom needed a couple of things to happen on finals day in order to regain the yellow jersey that he surrendered to Owen Wright for just one contest. The first of those things happened quickly when Jack Freestone took down Wright in the opening quarterfinal heat.

That put Florence in control of his own destiny and he capitalized by making quick work of Michel Bourez with a 9.27 on his opening wave, finishing with an 18.04 heat total. He was clinical once again in the semifinals, never giving Freestone a chance with a staggering 19.27 two-wave total. His final go there received a 9.90 from the judges, who may actually have underscored the wave.

Kolohe Andino also navigated his way to the final, showing for the second year in a row that he’s a force to be reckoned with on the Aussie leg. He also flirted with perfection twice in the quarters for an 18.77 total against Jordy Smith. Things were much tighter in the semis where he narrowly bested an in-form Filipe Toledo.

The win for John John gives him five finals appearances in his past 10 contests. If he’s making a final at every alternating event, nobody is going to overtake him without a Herculean effort.

The question has been “Who can slow this kid down?” and the answer, for now, continues to elude the men’s tour.

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

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