TRIPLE CROWN OF SURFING
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Andy Irons won the Op Pro Hawaii yesterday, his second straight win in a Triple Crown event. He closed last year's series with a win in the Pipeline Masters. CLICK FOR LARGE
Irons has Slam in sight
The Kauai surfer takes the Op Pro Hawaii and looks to the rest of the Triple Crown
Call it the Andy Slam.
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is a series of three major events on the North Shore, and Kauai's Andy Irons has the chance to hold all of its winner's trophies at one time after winning the series-opening 22nd annual men's Op Pro Hawaii yesterday at Haleiwa.
Added onto the individual contest titles, the Triple Crown also awards its own championship title to the best overall performer in the series. Irons won the series-ending Pipeline Masters last year on his way to taking the 2005 Triple Crown championship. If he wins the upcoming second jewel this year -- the World Cup at Sunset Beach -- he will become the first in the series' 24-year history to possess all four Hawaii majors at one time.
If not for a slim runner-up finish at the World Cup last year, Irons would already have the Slam. And, he won the event just the year before that. He is also a former three-time world champion, and won the Triple Crown in 2002 and 2003 as well.
"I've followed the Triple Crown since I was 8 years old. I know every single winner," said Irons, 28, sounding like Tiger Woods, who pulled off the Tiger Slam by winning all four of golf's majors consecutively from 2000 to 2001.
To hold all the Triple Crown titles "would be a dream come true. I've got a shot, and I'm definitely going to go for it. That's the ultimate dream."
In 4- to 8-foot-face waves on the last of four competition days for the event that began with an international field of 160 surfers, Irons surfed in three earlier heats to qualify for the 35-minute, four-man final.
With the swell declining and waves harder to come by as the day progressed, Irons quickly posted a 7.50 (out of 10) wave score and then a 5.50 in the decider after nabbing two solid rides before 8 minutes had expired.
The first wave was a right-handed set on which he executed two big off-the-top carves. The second was a smaller left on
which he strung together five consecutive backside hits. Though Irons and the other finalists all rode multiple waves after this point, they sat through a 7-minute lull that started about halfway through.
Irons' early scores proved to be his two best, and gave him a winning total of 13.00 points, the $15,000 first prize and the pole position in this year's Triple Crown race.
"It was tough in the dying swell, but the 7.5 got me in the door and the 5.5 kept me there," he said. The three other finalists "didn't need a real big score (to overtake the lead), but luckily it went flat for as long as it did."
Two spots ahead of Irons' current world ranking, No. 3 Taj Burrow of Australia finished less than a point behind with a 12.63 total and in second place. Makakilo's Joel Centeio (9.90) finished in third, while No. 37 Mikael Picon (8.50) of France took fourth.
The Op Pro was Burrow's first Hawaii competition in two years, as he was forced to sit out last year's Triple Crown with a broken foot.
"I had fun, even though the waves kind of slowed down there at the end," Burrow said. "I missed out on all the action last year, so it feels great to be back in the water in Hawaii."
Besides being the Triple Crown opener, the Op Pro was the penultimate event on the World Qualifying Series, a lower-tiered tour that surfers use to qualify for the World Championship Tour, which is generally reserved for the world's top 45 surfers.
However, because it is held in Hawaii's famed surf and considered a major event as part of the prestigious Triple Crown, most of the WCT surfers participate each year.
Centeio was the only WQS surfer to qualify for the semifinals, and his finish in the decider was the biggest result of his career. Though he must still be considered a dark horse, if he earns another similarly huge result at the Triple Crown's second jewel -- which also serves as the WQS finale -- he could potentially qualify for the first time for the WCT (the last jewel is the WCT final).
"I'll take a third place, for sure," Centeio, 23, said. Practically "from the quarterfinals, on, I was challenging only WCT guys. To beat some of the best, I'm so stoked right now."