Phil Taylor won an all-Stoke duel against Ian White as the UK Open qualifiers culminated at Wigan yesterday. It was an extremely nerve-jangling day for some; with the final UK Open spots up for grabs, but Taylor reigned supreme and showed his class in recording his first ranking title of 2015.
However, Ian White also enjoyed a superb day, reaching his first tour final of 2015. He wired D12 for a nine-darter in a 6-3 win against Brian Woods in the Last 16, before making amends in the quarter-final against Mervyn King, hitting the nine-darter to beat the Norfolk ace by the same scoreline.
In the semi-finals, White faced Raymond van Barneveld in a high quality affair; the 44-year-old averaged 109 but survived 5 match darts from the legendary Dutchman to reach the final. White surged into an early 2-0 lead against Taylor in yesterday’s showpiece, but the 16 times World Champion’s consistency proved decisive. Taylor won six successive legs to close out a comfortable 6-2 win with a 104.6 average.
Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld also enjoyed excellent respective afternoons. Lewis suffered a narrow 6-4 defeat to Taylor in the semi-finals beating Wes Newton, James Wade and Jamie Caven along the way. Lewis’s match with Wade was a particularly high-quality affair; both men averaged way in excess of 100, with Lewis hitting a 132 checkout (Bull, Bull, D16) to secure victory.
Lewis reached at least the quarter-final in all 6 UK Open qualifiers. In such a competitive field and over an intensive two weekends, that is remarkable consistency, which Jackpot will be hoping to maintain throughout the year.
van Barneveld regains some floor form.
Yesterday also saw Raymond van Barneveld regain some much-needed floor form, reaching his first Pro Tour semi-final for almost a year. Van Barneveld whitewashed Paul Amos and beat David Pallett 6-4, before winning dramatic last-leg deciders against Kyle Anderson and Andrew Gilding. Barney averaged 96 in beating Justin Pipe 6-4 in the quarters, before losing to White in the semis.
The Dutchman faced an onslaught with White’s unrelenting scoring, but he maintained his composure superbly, hitting 124, 90 & 76 finishes to hold his throw. However, in the final leg, after 2 excellent 140s, he spurned 5 match-darts to progress. It will have been a day of mixed emotions for van Barneveld. Frustration over the missed opportunity, but satisfaction with the way he performed, particularly on Saturday and Sunday’s events.
His ranking as World Number 12 doesn’t reflect his ability and quality, but this is largely due to his underwhelming floor performances over the past 18 months. He will be hoping this is the springboard for more consistent floor performances.
World Number 18 Wes Newton managed to secure qualification on the final day, reaching the Last 32 stage, where he was beaten by a rampant Lewis. Newton had endured a torrid qualification campaign, accumulating just £250 over five days, but victories over Robert Pinder and Eddie Dootson yesterday confirmed his place at Minehead. The Warrior will enter at the first-round stage; nevertheless he’ll just be relieved to have qualified.
Mansell Leaves it Late
Northern Ireland’s Micky Mansell also managed to secure a Minehead spot in dramatic late fashion. Mansell, like Newton, had only earnt £250 over the five events, so had to reach at least the last 64 stage to qualify. Mansell survived a late onslaught from the World Championship’s surprise package, Cristo Reyes, to progress to the Last 128, courtesy of a last leg decider, where Andy Hamilton awaited.
Mansell trailed 4-0, but produced a superb comeback to pip the Hammer in a deciding leg. Mansell then confirmed his qualification with an excellent 6-3 win over former Lakeside champion Christian Kist. The Northern Irishman will be desperate to now make a tangible impact on the Minehead stage; as his most impressive displays to date have come on the Pro Tour, rather than the main stage.
High Profile Absentees
Despite this, there will be a number of high-profile absentees from Minehead this year. Former UK Open finalists Colin Osborne, Barrie Bates and Mark Walsh failed to qualify, as did former World Number 1 Colin Lloyd. Talented youngsters Rowby-John Rodriguez, Ross Smith & Jamie Lewis also missed out on a qualification spot.
This has arguably been one of the most competitive UK Open qualifying campaigns; the strength in depth within the PDC is excellent. This is clearly illustrated by the names that will be entering in the earlier rounds as they failed to make the Top 32 in the order of merit. Kevin Painter, Dean Winstanley and former Lakeside Champions Christian Kist and Stephen Bunting will enter in the second round, whilst Wes Newton, Stuart Kellett, Keegan Brown and 3 times World Champion John Part will enter in the opening round. To view the Final UK Open Order of Merit in full, click here: https://joshsdartistry.wordpress.com/uk-open-order-of-merit/
The short-format in the opening rounds significantly increases the prospects of some shock exits; over best of nine legs, you cannot afford a sloppy start, otherwise you will be punished. The unpredictability of the event is undoubtedly what makes the UK Open one of the most watchable and enthralling competitions on the PDC calendar.
Unknown amateurs getting the opportunity to play the world’s best just adds to the drama and excitement, which is heightened by the random draw. As a result, the tournament is often referred to as ‘The FA Cup of Darts’.
Theoretically, Michael van Gerwen could meet Phil Taylor in the Last 64; this would not happen in any other event due to the seeding bracket, which gives other players an opportunity to flourish. At virtually every UK Open, there is an unknown quantity that enjoys an excellent run, causing shock upsets along the way. Last year it was 22 year-old factory worker Aden Kirk, who recorded memorable victories over Phil Taylor and Peter Wright en route to the last 16.
Who will be this year’s surprise package? The tournament gets underway on Friday 6th March and will culminate on Sunday evening. The draw for the opening two rounds will be made tomorrow, so there will be several anxious top players, hoping to avoid a potential banana-skin. Details of tomorrow’s draw will be available on my blog and my twitter account: @JoshsDartistry.