Robert Thornton secured his maiden World Grand Prix title with a thrilling 5-4 victory over Michael van Gerwen, in undoubtedly one of the best ever finals in PDC history.
Michael van Gerwen hit an astonishing EIGHTEEN 180’s, but missed doubles cost him dearly, allowing the Scot to claim his second PDC major, after his UK Open triumph in 2012.
Van Gerwen started the match in explosive fashion, hitting 4 180’s in the opening three legs, en route to winning the first set without reply. Thornton also struggled on the doubles; he failed to register a double in his first three darts throughout the opening set, which the Dutchman unsurprisingly exploited.
Nevertheless, Thornton was unruffled and bounced back superbly in the second set. Van Gerwen continued to produce a flurry of maximums, but ‘The Thorn’ was far more consistent on the doubles. The set went to a fifth leg and after delivering a perfect 160 start, Thornton had a chance at D16 for the set, which he duly grasped.
The third set was an extremely topsy-turvy affair. The first four legs went against throw, but van Gerwen crucially missed two set darts at D20. Thornton capitalised on this reprieve, by once again starting with a perfect 160 in the deciding leg of the set. The end-result was the same, as the Scot edged ahead for the first time in the contest.
Van Gerwen responded in emphatic fashion, as we’ve come to expect from such a top-class professional. The 25-year-old was imperious, whilst Thornton was laboured. MvG again won the set without reply, thanks to two ton-plus finishes of 104 and 110.
Thornton’s average was considerably lower than van Gerwen’s, because the Dutch ace won a number of legs at a canter. However, in the decisive moments, the 45-year-old Ayrshire ace delivered the goods. He led 2-1 in the fifth and the set appeared to be heading for another last-leg decider, until an astonishing turnaround ensued.
MvG was on 86, with Thornton well adrift on 473 after taking 9 darts to kick off the leg. However, van Gerwen missed 8 darts to clinch the leg and after back-to-back maximums brought Thornton back into contention, the Scot took out 56 to regain his one-set advantage.
The two sets won by van Gerwen had been routs and the sixth was virtually identical. After such a mentally draining fifth set, Thornton was rather sloppy and the ‘Green Machine’ was rampant, whitewashing the Scotsman and clinching the set with a clinical 96 checkout.
van Gerwen’s success over the past two years has been exemplified by his ability to produce moments of brilliance in critical moments. Nevertheless, in this final, he was missing a worrying amount of doubles.
He led 2-1 in the seventh and was on the verge of claiming the set against the darts. Yet, D4, which had been his nemesis in set five, again thwarted MvG, as he missed 5 clear darts for a 4-3 lead. Thornton profited from Michael’s profligacy and delivered a devastating 118 checkout to regain the initiative.
Both men kicked off the fifth leg of the set with 120, but some error-strewn darts from Thornton put van Gerwen firmly in the ascendancy. Remarkably, the Boxtel man missed a further two set darts at D10 and D5, before Thornton converted a nerveless 74 checkout to move one set away from a famous victory.
Thornton nearly delivered a knockout blow to the two-time Grand Prix Champion in the opening exchanges of the eighth set, as he missed D12 for a 141 finish and a critical break of throw. He held throw in the following leg, but sloppy starts to the next two legs proved damaging.
van Gerwen hit his 17th 180 to send the match into a 9th and final set, which is what this phenomenal spectacle deserved. There were constant shifts in momentum throughout the contest and you had absolutely no idea who would prevail, which made it even more pulsating.
Thornton landed the first decisive blow of the final set, after van Gerwen had posted his eighteenth maximum to leave D20. Thornton nailed 90 in two darts for a 1-0 lead, but MvG delivered an instant riposte courtesy of D18.
The third leg was without doubt the deciding factor. Van Gerwen hit a 140 followed by 134 to set up D14, but as the partisan Dublin crowd began to heckle the usually popular Dutchman, he buckled under the pressure and missed three darts for a break of throw. Thornton pounced upon this error, hitting D20 to move one leg away from victory.
Thornton scored superbly in the fourth leg, hitting his 9th maximum to set up a wonderful opportunity to secure the title. The 2014 World Champion missed D20 for a 116 checkout, giving the former UK Open and World Masters Champion the chance to seal victory.
It was quite apt that Thornton left his favourite D20 and he made no mistake, hitting it with his first dart to spark jubilant celebrations. Robert Thornton is a fantastic double tops hitter and this was absolutely integral to his victory. He was nerveless in the big moments and he punished virtually every mistake van Gerwen made.
The Dutchman will be desperately disappointed not to have secured his third World Grand Prix title, but he deserves immense credit for the humility and class he showed in defeat. He was inevitably devastated, given the chances he squandered, but he remains the man to beat and no doubt he’ll bounce back.
Nevertheless, this night belonged to Robert Thornton. I backed him as a darkhorse prior to the tournament and he made his pre-tournament odds of 80/1 look extremely completely foolish.
He is a very consistent double-hitter; combined with his prolific scoring, this is a menacing combination in this format. This triumph will surely guarantee Thornton a 2016 Premier League spot; a reward he richly deserves. Congratulations Robert Thornton!