Nine-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, who struggled at the start of the season and recently acknowledged there was only "a distant possibility" he would contend for a 10th title, might upgrade his outlook at week's end.
That's because the Floridian superstar, who was ranked eighth coming into the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, is still in contention while many top surfers were eliminated during or before the third round.
Slater, 37, who won the Trestles event in 2007 and 2008, on Tuesday dispatched wild card Brett Simpson to advance to the fourth round of the ASP World Tour competition -- the sixth of 10 events.
Slater will face Hawaii's Kekoa Bacalso when competition resumes, as early as today but most likely Friday.
The smallish surf was inconsistent, but Slater has a history of finding the best waves at Trestles, and squeezing the most from them. On a day when wave scores were relatively low, he shredded a long right-hander to earn a 9.0 out of a possible 10, and later added a 7.83 for a best-two-waves tally of 16.83. Simpson's cumulative score was 9.24.
Slater said afterward he took nothing for granted against the potentially explosive Simpson, who is ranked eighth on the qualifying circuit and gained entry into the World Tour competition by winning the Hurley Pro Trails at the recent U.S. Open.
"It was good to have a heat against him," Slater said. "Sometimes for me it's harder to have a heat against Brett . . . because you don't see him all the time and you don't know what to expect. Being unfamiliar with your opponent can make it tougher sometimes."
In the previous third-round heat World Tour ratings leader Joel Parkinson was eliminated by Cardiff's Rob Machado, another wild card and one of Slater's close friends.
Machado, 35, an iconic free surfer who is entered as a sponsor wild card, a day earlier defeated fourth-ranked Taj Burrow.
"The last thing I thought about was that I would beat Parko with a couple of five-point scores," Machado said, in reference to poor conditions during the 35-minute heat. "I thought those would be warm-up waves."
Machado's fourth-round opponent is Ventura's Dane Reynolds, who is ranked No. 20.
Also cleared from Slater's Hurley Pro path was sixth-ranked Bobby Martinez. The Santa Barbara surfer lost in the second round to Australia's Luke Stedman, who has returned from an injury and is ranked 45th.
Therefore, if Slater can win at Trestles for a third consecutive year, he will leap several spots and could figure prominently in the title race.
As expected, however, he downplayed Parkinson's early exit. "You definitely think about it -- it's impossible not to," he said.
"But you can't let it change the way you approach the heat. You still have to go out there and win. That goes for the world title as well. I pretty much have to win everything from here out to put myself back in this thing."
Among top surfers advancing were second-ranked C.J. Hobgood, No. 3 Adriano de Souz, No. 5 Damien Hobgood and No. 7 Mick Fanning.