LAS VEGAS – Just before Cooper Davis slid up and nodded for the gate inside the red bucking chutes at T-Mobile Arena, the reigning World Champion admitted he thought back to last year’s Championship Sunday.

It was in the same exact bucking chute location in T-Mobile Arena that Davis rode Catfish John for an eventual title-clinching 91 points.

One year later, Davis hit the 90-point threshold once again to keep his 2017 title hopes alive.

Davis finished Round 3 tied for second with Jose Vitor Leme (90 points on Mudshark) with 90 points aboard Blue Stone.

“That kind of went through my mind whenever I slid up in there knowing I was 90 points in there,” Davis said. “It wasn’t bad being in there.”

Davis made the mental note around 5 seconds to start moving a little bit harder to gain every point possible from the judges.

“That is about the only thing you do, especially in a spot like this,” Davis said. “Having a good bull like that sure makes it go a little better. At about 5 6 (seconds), I knew I needed a few more extra points out of him so I started moving that outside leg a little bit.”

It was a strong bounce back performance from Davis after being bucked off by Smooth Operator on Thursday, but the 23-year-old will have his work cut out of him to run down the red-hot world No. 1 Jess Lockwood.

Davis earned 152.5 points toward the world standings, but Lockwood earned another 300 world points with his third consecutive World Finals round win with 90.25 points on More Big Bucks. Lockwood is 95 points ahead of Davis in the event average.

Davis is third in the world standings and 454.17 points behind Lockwood with three bull rides to go.

Coincidentally, an extremely similar situation played out last year when Davis placed second in Round 3, while then world leader Kaique Pacheco won the round.

Leme appears on track to play spoiler in the World Championship race after riding his third consecutive bull at the Finals. The 21-year-old is second in the event average, which awards 1,500 points to the top finisher, and the 2017 PBR Brazil champion could surpass Lockwood this weekend and push him to No. 2 in the event average (720 world points).

Despite being 95 points behind Lockwood in the event average, Davis can still catch Lockwood before the dust settles.

We are only halfway through the Finals.

“It is time to bear down,” Davis said. “I don’t have a lot of time to be playing around right now. During the day, I am pretty chill. When I get here, it is all about business.”

Lockwood, 20, has been right beside Davis in doing everything he can to potentially become the youngest World Champion in PBR history.

It is believed Lockwood is the first rider in PBR history to begin a World Finals with three consecutive round wins.

J.B. Mauney (2013) and Kody Lostroh (2009) each won three rounds overall on their way to their respective championships.

“It has been awesome,” Lockwood said. “Having my family here, I am not worrying about anything. I am just having fun all day and I can look up into the stands before I get and see them. Everything is fine because they are here.”

Friday night was Lockwood’s third 90-plus ride aboard More Big Bucks.

“I knew if I would ride that bull I would be 90-plus,” Lockwood said. “That bull is showy and he might not be as hard to ride as others. He has the kick, the speed, the break over. Just like Bruiser, he has each one.”

Lockwood and Davis have begun to set themselves apart from the other world title contenders.

No. 3 Eduardo Aparecido (5.33 seconds on Oscar P) and No. 5 Kaique Pacheco (2.31 seconds on Wicked Stick) bucked off their third consecutive bulls of the Finals and will need to finish the Finals 3-for-3 and have Lockwood buck off multiple bulls to have a chance.

“I had a hard bull today, but I thought he was harder than when I rode him before,” Aparecido said with the help of Lucas Teodoro translating. “I am going to try to ride (this weekend) like I have done the rest of the days.”

Pacheco admitted his right groin/pelvis injury has been affecting him this week.

“I can’t say what percent healthy I am,” Pacheco said with the help of Teodoro. “It depends on the bull and how the bull bucks. Some it hurts more and some it doesn’t.”

Pacheco admitted he thinks the injury is causing him to struggle and buck off in Las Vegas.

“I am trying to give 100 percent, but I cannot,” Pacheco said. “I am not having time to heal.”

World No. 2 Derek Kolbaba also bucked off after lasting 7.29 seconds on Biker Bob.

Kolbaba is only 322.5 points behind Lockwood, but is now 1-for-3.

Lockwood is in the driver’s seat heading into Round 4, but he understands that if he bucks off a bull and drops in the event average that things certainly can open up for Davis or Kolbaba.

“If I was going to get caught up in the round victories, I think it would have happened either the second night or tonight,” Lockwood said. “It isn’t very often you get to win two in a row, let alone three in a row. I am not worried about round victories. I am taking it one bull at a time.

“It is a world title race. It is not done until they hand the buckle to you on the stage that day.”

ROUND 4 MATCHUPS

Davis vs. Bad Moon Rising (14-9, BFTS)
Kolbaba vs. Stretch (1-0, BFTS)
Lockwood vs. High Test (10-1, BFTS)

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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