Hamilton 5 – 7 Thornton
The first match up was the close encounter between Andy Hamilton and Robert Thornton, with Hamilton looking to improve his performance from last year’s premier league and Thornton experiencing it for the first time, making his debut.
With the game now being a shorter format (best of 12) due to the extra players, it becomes even more crucial to come out of the blocks quickly. However, this didn’t follow and following a slow start from Thornton, Hamilton took the first leg on throw in 17 darts, taking out double 8 to go 1-0 up. He was then pegged back by Thornton, taking out 60 for 1-1 and then stealing the darts with a 104 check out to move 2-1 ahead. Following this, he took the following 2 legs, the first in 13 darts (with Hamilton back on 152) and the second with a 117 checkout, to break for the second time and move 4-1 ahead. With a 105.14 average (with Hamilton’s a lowly 87.98) Thornton moved 5-1 up on Hamilton despite missing 4 darts to take the leg, ending up in the madhouse, taking double 1 to secure the leg.
The tide suddenly changed though, as double 10 sent Hamilton one step closer to a comeback holding his throw for only the second time in the game, making it 5-2. With his form visibly back, he kicked off the 8th leg with a 180, hitting 5 perfect darts, eventually hitting double 20 for a 12 darter with a fantastic dart over 2 blocking darts in the single 20 bed. With his average up significantly to 95, he then followed with his third consecutive leg, hitting double 16 first time to move with 1 of his opponent at 5-4. With the points in sight, Thornton missed 2 darts at double top to secure at least 1 point, allowing Hamilton to return and amazingly secure the leg with his third dart to draw level at 5-5, making a seemingly unlikely comeback.
With a final momentum swing, Thornton took 2 consecutive legs to kill off the comeback and win the match. The first leg marked a return to form with his fourth maximum and then took out 120 to go 6-5 up and then hitting his fifth and final maximum in the 12th leg hit a 12 darter in order to secure the points and cap a hard fought victory.
Wade 7 – 4 Newton
The second game up marked the second debut of the night with ‘the Warrior’ Wes Newton making his first appearance on the premier league stage up against previous winner James Wade. It was the 2009 champion who started the brightest, taking the first leg in 15 darts on double 20, holding his throw. Newton levelled straight away however, with erratic finishing, eventually sealing the leg with his 4th dart at double 16. The next leg was very much a see-saw with the momentum changing several times. After losing the darts Wade pegged Newton back but missed tops for an 80 finish to hold throw, leaving Newton 3 clear darts which he failed to convert and thus allowed Wade back in for his infamous double 10 to move 2-1 up. However, Newton levelled again with another hold and moved the game to 2-2 with his fourth attempt taking out double tops.
Wade then started to control the match, missing the bull for a 167, just bending the wire of the bullseye, nevertheless though; he took the leg on double 5 and moved 3-2 up. Extending his lead, Wade took the next 2 legs, moving 4-2 up breaking Newton on double 10 following several missed doubles from Newton. With Newton’s check out states on 12% Wade took full advantage moving to 5-2, a leg away from the points, with a score of 156 leaving 40 which Wade took out first time.
Newton then made a brief come back, taking the 8th leg with double 16 under no pressure from Wade and then the 9th leg on double 10 to break Wade’s throw after missing a dart for double 20 to make it 5-4. But this period of form was brief from Newton as within 2 legs the game was over, the 10th leg awash with missed doubles was eventually taken by Wade to break back on double 2, meaning he had at least secured the draw and leaving Newton having taken out only 4 of 23 attempts at doubles. This poor form then crept in to both players scoring as the 11th leg started slowly but again Wade capitalised and despite missing double 12, took out double 6 in order to secure a 7-4, his first win on opening night since 2008.
Raymond Van Barneveld 7-4 Gary Anderson
The third match was an encounter pitting Barney and Gary Anderson against each other and was one that Anderson quickly asserted himself in and after a poor start from both men, moved into a 1-0 lead with a break of throw, hitting double 16 on his first attempt. This was quickly followed by a hold of throw, to go 2-0 up as he took out 80 with an impressive double top over 2 blocking darts. Despite a slight dip in Anderson’s form which allowed Barney to have 6 clear darts from 68 and take out double 4 to hold throw, he was soon extending his lead with an impressive 106 finish to lead 3-1. This lead was despite a massive advantage in averages favouring RVB, as he was firing at 101.20 whilst Anderson was back on an 88.97 average. Thus, there was no surprise when Barney took the next 2 legs to level proceedings, taking the first in 13 darts on double 16 and the second hitting double 4 (after several missed doubles) to break, increasing his average to 106.
Continuing this form, Barney took the next 3 legs, to win 5 on the bounce. Despite more missed doubles from both players in the 7th leg, Barney took double 16 on his third attempt to move into the lead for the first time at 4-3 up. A 180 on his third visit left 41 after 9 darts and following a double 8 finish, Barney moved 5-3 in front after a 12 darter. It was soon 6-3 and Barney had secured at least a draw, as Barney took out 68, the averages still in Barney’s favour at 100.78 compared to Anderson’s 92.15.
Anderson then broke the flow, winning his first leg in 6, but only because Barney had missed 1 match dart, returning Anderson to the board and taking out double 2 to hold his throw. Although, this was only a momentary break in the flow, as Barney then returned and killed off the game, missing another match dart. He then returned to the board as Anderson missed double tops to break and finally, Barney returned to the board taking double 16 and securing a brilliant performance to win 7-4, winning 6 of his 7 legs in 16 or less darts, with a 102.02 average.
Simon Whitlock 7-3 Lewis
The penultimate game of the night saw ‘the Wizard’ Simon Whitlock against the two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis, in what turned out to be an exhibition of combination finishing on behalf of Whitlock. The first came in the first leg as he held throw with an impressive 89 checkout to move 1-0 up. Lewis then held his throw as after 9 darts he left 81 and after several misses, he took out double 4 in 14 darts in order to level at 1-1. But then Whitlock held again, with his first ton-plus finish, taking out 108 to punish Lewis, who hit 60 to bust first dart with 60 left, going 2-1 up. The 4th leg was slow and Whitlock almost broke, only missing double 13 for a 146 finish. But this gave the leg to Lewis, who took out double 18 to level at 2-2.
Following this Whitlock displayed more combination ability, when he missed double 16 for a 106 checkout but then returned to the board hitting double 16 to hold and move 3-2 in the lead. Afterwards, he took the first break of the match as he took out 121 on the bull to open up a 2 leg advantage at 4-2. Lewis then broke his rhythm winning what turned out to be his last leg of the match, as he took out double 12 to make it 4-3.
Whitlock then took 3 consecutive legs, the first on double 10, after 2 missed darts at double 20. It was then 6-3, as Lewis missed the bull for a 94 check and Whitlock returned the hit double 20 with his 3rd dart to secure at least the draw. This then turned into a win when 5 missed darts came back to haunt Lewis, as Whitlock was able to secure the match with a double 8 to make the score 7-3 and lift Whitlock to the top of the table.
Phil Taylor 6 – 6 Michael Van Gerwen
The final game of the evening was the most anticipated, as it was a repeat of the World Championship final, where Phil Taylor only just edged out the young Dutch master. The game burst into life as Phil Taylor hit 180,180 to leave him on a checkout for the 9 dart finish and despite missing the 7th perfect dart, Taylor took his third dart at double 12 to go 1-0 up.
The next 3 legs belonged to MVG as he held his throw and had 6 darts from 164, taking out tops first time to level. He then broke Taylor, after 4 missed doubles handed ‘Mighty Mike’ a chance at tops to break and take the lead at 2-1. Furthermore, after more missed doubles from an inconsistent Taylor again let the Dutchman take the leg, as a third dart at double 1 stuck and he went 3-1 in front.
But Taylor came back to level the tie and after yet more missed darts a doubles, he finally converted an opportunity on double 16 to move within 1 of Van Gerwen. It was then Van Gerwen’s time to lose form on the doubles; missing double 20, 10 and 5, letting Taylor take out 89 on the bull to level at 3-3.
The following 2 legs went with Van Gerwen, the 7th leg seeing Van Gerwen take out double 4 for the leg, with Taylor hitting 7 on his second visit to the board. The following leg saw him take out double 16 to move 5-3 up on Taylor and move within a single leg of at least a point. Taylor took the 9th leg however, as he converted a 70 checkout on double 16 to break the Van Gerwen rhythm and move within one of ‘Mighty Mike’ at 5-4. The Power’s hopes of victory however were dashed when as a 180,140 start from Van Gerwen left 91 after 9 darts and after missing double 16 once, he finally sealed the draw on D16 to make it 6-4.
With a Phil Taylor loss on the cards, it looked ever more likely as MVG had clear darts for the game, but his failure to put Taylor to the sword meant that he was able to seal the leg on double 16, making the score 6-5. This then led to a final leg shootout, with the pressure on Taylor, in order to salvage a point and it was the experience of Taylor that did prevail. Taylor checked out a 104 to show his class and deny the Dutchman the victory.
Overall, after the first week, the stand out players were Simon Whitlock and Barney, Whitlock for his finishing ability and Barney for his consistency in winning 6 of his 7 legs in 16 or less with a 102 average. Clearly, these 2 will be looking to carrying this form on, but wins for Wade and Thornton also suggest that they could be in form for this year’s Premier League, whilst Van Gerwen and Taylor also still figure at the top of the running for this year’s title.
By Alex Knight (theknightlyblog)
(Image courtesy of www.pdc.tv)