ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Joao Ricardo Vieira is the elder statesman of the 2019 World Championship chase, and he is very used to the ebbs and flows of a title race.
After coming up short of a world title in four consecutive seasons (2013-2016), Vieira has not given up on his dream of one day leaving Las Vegas with the prestigious PBR World Champion’s gold buckle.
The 34-year-old was unable to win the Ty Murray Invitational, presented by Isleta Resort & Casino, on Sunday afternoon, but his Round 3-winning ride aboard Sitting Bull (88.75 points) helped him limit the damage as world leader Jose Vitor Leme picked up his second event win of 2019.
Leme earned a massive 700 world points when he rode Cochise for 92.75 points on the final ride of the championship round, but he only gained 390 points on Vieira, who wound up finishing third with 310 world points.
“This is important because I get a lot of points for the ranking,” Vieira said after Round 3. “This is so fun. These guys, they are good bull riders. They are riding good too. I am trying to stay together with them. I am so glad for this.”
Vieira will head into the Green Bay Invitational, presented by Oneida Casino and North Star Mohican Casino Resort, on May 31 861.66 points behind Leme.
No. 2 Chase Outlaw finished runner-up to Leme in the event and is now 489.16 points behind him in the world standings.
Vieira is the oldest rider in the Top 20.
The 2013 Rookie of the Year’s best finish in the world standings came in 2014 when he finished runner-up to three-time World Champion Silvano Alves.
Vieira began the Ty Murray Invitational, which he previously won in 2013, with 87.75 points on Cut The Cord Friday before being bucked off by Heavy D in 6.2 seconds during Round 2 on Saturday night. Vieira then responded by riding Sitting Bull to enter the championship round second to Leme.
“That is a good bull,” Vieira said of Sitting Bull. “He is not easy to ride. That was my first time (trying to ride him).”
The round win is only Vieira’s third this season, and his first since February when he won Iron Cowboy in Los Angeles.
What made the ride even more impressive was that it was away from Vieira's hand, nine-time World Champion Ty Murray said on CBS Sports Network.
"My hat is off to Joao right there," Murray said. "This looks really good . You know he has been working on it. He knows he has had to fix that chink in his armor. I will tell you what, if he keeps doing that, they better look out because he is 100 percent when they go the other direction. If he can just stay up there and keep riding them away from his hand, that guy right there is big time."
Vieira may be able to make up some ground if he decides to remain entered in the PBR Memorial Day Weekend Bull Fest in Shipshewana, Indiana, on Friday and Saturday night.
A victory at the Touring Pro Division event would garner him 60 world points on Leme, who is taking the weekend off.
“I am not sure yet if I will still go,” Vieira said. “I will see.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko