After last weekend’s showdown in Minehead, theknightlyblog reviews three things that we learnt at the UK Open.
The PDC is bigger than MvG and Phil Taylor
Purists, look away now. As for those who watch the Premier League week-in-week-out, follow every major and the Pro Tour this is not breaking news. But for casual fans, this weekend laid bare the depth of talent that the PDC now has in its ranks.
With Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, James Wade and Gary Anderson all absent or failing to make the last 16, you may have expected the standard to drop. But finals day was one of the best in recent PDC memory.
It was obvious that the game between the UK Open’s top qualifier Peter Wright and five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld would be an absolute cracker but it surpassed expectations. There were big checkouts, consistently high scores and a bucket load of tension, in a tight, high quality festival of darting brilliance.
But to see three last leg shootouts in one session of darts was something to savour. You truly did not know which way each tie was going to swing until ‘game shot and the match’ rang out from the referee. The runs from Daryl Gurney, Alan Norris and Gerwyn Price really lit up the event and it was both fascinating and refreshing to see a different line-up on finals day.
Credit should also be given to Paul Hogan, who bought some real magic to the FA Cup of darts. His draw would have concerned any player in the PDC ranks but Hogan was unfazed, beating Keegan Brown and Jamie Lewis before stunning two-time World Champions Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis in a fairy tale run that was ended by Price in the last 16.
Peter Wright DID have a major title in him
There has been huge debate around Peter Wright since he announced himself as a real contender on the PDC scene with a run to the finals of the 2014 World Championships. He lost that day to Michael van Gerwen, who has also beaten Wright in two UK Open finals, a World Matchplay semi-final in 2015 and a Grand Slam of Darts semi-final in 2016.
In fact, it is largely the Dutchman’s dominance that has really raised questions in the past about Wright’s ability to win a major. Over the last two seasons there has been very little doubt that, on his day, Snakebite has a solid game. He is amongst the biggest scorers and is very capable of hurting his opponents with big checkouts.
The accusation may well be thrown at Wright that he wouldn’t have won it if van Gerwen was present but this is irrelevant. Firstly, it is random draw tournament, so there is no guarantee that he would have definitely had to play Mighty Mike. Secondly, Wright was the top qualifier for the UK Open and had an average of 110.88 in his quarter final, his second highest after his 119.5 average in the Premier League last week. Thus, even if the two had of been drawn together, Wright would have given van Gerwen a very good game.
Whilst it is certain that Wright will want to win a major title with van Gerwen present, the fact that he played under the pressure of being favourite all weekend and came through when others like Anderson and Lewis fell to lesser opposition, mean that it was a deserved major win. He almost lines himself up in that James Wade role from a decade ago, when he was the one to capitalise when Taylor exited tournaments. You don’t hear that aimed as a criticism at Wade and you shouldn’t at Wright. A major is a major and the trophy doesn’t have a list of absentees written on it, just the winner.
The top 16 are under threat
This weekend we saw the depth of talent on the PDC Circuit and three men certainly on the up are semi-finalists Alan Norris and Daryl Gurney and runner-up Gerywn Price.
Price has had his Tour Card for just three years but yet is now just £16,500 off of a spot in the top 16. The Ice Man kept his cool across the weekend and the 160 checkout to beat Ian White in the quarter-final will live long in the memory. If he can follow up his run to the UK Open final with some good form on the Pro Tour and a couple of major TV quarter-finals he could well find himself in the top 16 for this year’s World Championship.
For Norris and Gurney, their runs have moved them to eighteenth and nineteenth respectively. Norris has had a very good month following his victory in Players Championship One at Barnsley Metrodome and he overcame, in my opinion, the toughest draw out of the semi-finalists. Michael Smith, Benito van de Pas and Kim Huybrechts are quality dart players and victories over them show that Norris is the real deal.
As for Gurney, he seems to have really matured as a player, keeping control of his emotions more on the oche and possibly learning from his mistake at the World Championships where he took on the crowd over some shouting out when he was throwing for doubles. He certainly has the scoring power and if he continues to play the board he could be a very solid PDC player.
Price and Gurney are also clearly on the PDC’s radar due to their invitation to play in the World Series and another good run at a Major could line them up for a wildcard spot.
Whilst the top eight are relatively safe in their positions, the likes of Simon Whitlock, Benito van de Pas and especially Robert Thornton could find themselves in danger from the in-from trio.
This season Thornton is defending £100,000 that he earned in prize money by winning the 2015 World Grand Prix and when this comes off his prize money in the Order of Merit in October at this year’s tournament in Dublin, there could be a chance to steal his spot in the top 16.