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Jones, Fleury on fire heading into Tour Challenge playoffs

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Team Jennifer Jones and Team Tracy Fleury are all tuned up for the Tour Challenge playoffs.

The reigning world champion Jones, from Winnipeg, notched her third consecutive win trouncing Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland 7-1 during the 11th round-robin draw Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Fleury (4-0) kept her East St. Paul, Man., team’s unbeaten streak intact demolishing Winnipeg’s Team Darcy Robertson 11-2.

Jones was already up one when Team Tirinzoni fourth Alina Paetz came up short in the third and handed over two points. Tirinzoni was limited to her single point in the fourth, Jones matched with one in five and swiped three in six.

Team Jones (3-1) dropped their first round-robin game against 2017 world junior champions Team Isabella Wrana of Sweden but got back on track with victories over Winnipeg’s Team Alli Flaxey and Team Nina Roth of the United States.

Fleury was up by one after two ends and slid away with a single in three and then it was all aboard the express route on the steal train pocketing one in four, two in five and a game-ending four in six.

Both Tirinzoni and Robertson wrapped up pool play with 2-2 records and remain in the mix for either tiebreakers or direct quarterfinal spots pending the results of the two remaining round-robin draws.

Meanwhile, Roth drew to the button to beat Flaxey 7-6 in an extra end and secure her playoff spot at 3-1. Flaxey was eliminated with a 1-3 record.

Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan (3-0) and Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., (3-1) have also clinched women’s playoff berths.

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Team Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, Man., earned their first win of the event downing Toronto’s Team Jason Epping 5-1.

Epping, fresh from winning the Canadian Beef Masters two weeks ago, struggled during the game shooting 60 percent while Gunnlaugson was completely dialled in at 94. Unlike on the women’s side, men’s teams with 1-3 records are still technically in it for now with both Epping and Gunnlaugson crossing their fingers for a chance to play another game.

Gunnlaugson drew for deuces in the first and fourth ends while making consecutive double takeouts during the third that limited Epping to draw for a single.

It looked like the force was on again in the fifth but Epping opted for a desperation manoeuvre instead attempting a double angle raise that missed the mark and gave up a point to trail by four. Epping didn’t even bother throwing his last in seven as he shook hands a rock early following another patented runback double takeout from Gunnlaugson.

Team Peter de Cruz qualified for the playoffs at 3-0 following a 6-5 win over Team John Shuster of the United States. The reigning Olympic gold medallist Shuster already punched his playoff ticket finishing pool play at 3-1.

Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and defending champs Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., are also already through on the men’s side with identical 3-0 records with a game in hand while Team Rich Ruohonen from the United States has qualified at 3-1.

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

The quarterfinals and semifinals are set for Saturday with all finals scheduled for Sunday.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $20,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask.

UP NEXT: The Tour Challenge continues at 3 p.m. ET with broadcast coverage on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).