There were a number of big-name casualties in the opening session of the Players Championship finals today, with Kim Huybrechts, Terry Jenkins, Jelle Klaasen, Stephen Bunting and Mervyn King among the seeds to tumble in Minehead.
The performance of the afternoon was undoubtedly delivered by Daryl Gurney, who produced his best ever TV performance in thrashing Kim Huybrechts 6-2.
Gurney averaged 101. 38 and hit 46% on the doubles en route to stunning the Belgian, who was seeded fifth in Minehead. The Northern Irishman has always possessed immense natural ability and perhaps now he will showcase that talent more regularly on the big stage.
Huybrechts led 1-0, before Gurney won five successive legs. This included a 120 finish, which he produced to restore parity at 1-1. Admittedly Huybrechts wasn’t at his best, but he wasn’t allowed to be, as Daryl pressured him from the outset.
Gerwyn Price was another surprise winner today, as he produced a sumptuous display of finishing to oust the in-form Jelle Klaasen 6-4.
The opening two legs were shared, as Price produced a fantastic 97 checkout to restore parity, despite hitting single 3 with his first dart. However, Klaasen coasted into a 3-1 advantage, hitting D9 in consecutive legs.
However, the Welshman showed his tenacity as he won four consecutive legs to move within the cusp of victory. He had hit 5/6 doubles and capitalised superbly on some lacklustre scoring from the Dutchman.
Nevertheless, Price missed three match darts on D10 as Klaasen reduced the arrears to the solitary leg and suddenly, Jelle appeared rejuvenated.
However, any hopes of a fightback were short-lived, as Price regained his composure, to secure victory with a clinical 96 checkout for a 14-darter. Gerwyn will face the winner of tonight’s clash between Ian White and Raymond van Barneveld in the last 16 tomorrow.
World Number 10 Terry Jenkins suffered an early exit at Butlins, as he lost a bizarre game against Alan Norris, which saw a total of 34 doubles missed in just 9 legs.
Norris led 3-2 at the first interval, but should really have been 5-0 ahead. He had hit a mere 3/20 on the doubles, but Jenkins remained in touch, despite averaging a miserly 72.
The standard did improve after the interval, as Norris began to score more consistently. He took out shots of 86 and 88 to move 5-3 ahead, before he sealed his place in Saturday’s second-round with a clinical 71 finish.
It was a torrid afternoon for Jenkins, who also struggled on the doubles, posting just 3 from 17 attempts. The major concern for the 52-year-old is the amount of loose darts he’s throwing per leg. Terry has been renowned over the years for his consistency, but at present, he is looking alarmingly erratic.
Elsewhere, former Lakeside World Champion Stephen Bunting almost produced a remarkable fightback, as he was edged out by Benito van de Pas. Benito stormed into a 5-0 lead at the interval, but Bunting refused to surrender; winning four consecutive legs to reduce the deficit to 5-4.
‘The Bullet’ was in cruise control of the tenth leg, as the contest appeared poised for a last-leg decider, but Bunting squandered 5 darts at double, allowing van de Pas to take out 70 and crawl over the line.
Benito’s scoring was inconsistent and he was clearly affected by the nerves as Bunting continued to claw his way back, but the Dutchman’s ruthless finishing proved decisive, as he hit 6 out of 8 on the doubles.
Simon Whitlock secured a much-needed TV victory as he won a poor-quality contest against Brendan Dolan, who continues to struggle.
Both men were comfortably in the World’s Top 10 last year, but Dolan is now out of the Top 16, whilst Whitlock is facing the same prospect unless he enjoys a fine run at next month’s World-Championship.
Dolan endured a nightmare afternoon on the doubles, hitting just 2 doubles from an incredible 21 attempts. Whitlock was unconvincing himself, averaging 86, although to his credit, the Australian did exploit Dolan’s profligacy to record just his third TV victory in 2015.
Vincent van der Voort set up a potential last-16 clash against his best friend Michael van Gerwen tomorrow, as he eased to an emphatic 6-1 victory over an under-par Justin Pipe.
The first three legs went against throw, as van der Voort led 2-1, before Pipe wasted a wonderful opportunity in the fourth leg. After narrowly missing the bull for a spectacular 161 checkout, ‘The Force’ missed a further five darts to restore parity.
van der Voort led 4-1 at the break, despite struggling for fluency himself, yet he improved immeasurably after the break. The Dutchman moved one leg away from victory with a breathtaking 157 outshot, before clinching the win with a classy 12-darter.
Mensur Suljovic’s tremendous 2015 continues, as he made a winning start on his Players Championship Finals debut, thrashing Mervyn King 6-1. King appeared to be struggling with his back in the closing stages, which is an obvious concern given his fitness issues over recent years.
Suljovic took out 116 to claim the opening leg, before firing in a tremendous 12-darter to double his lead.
Suljovic missed two darts at D20 for a 4-0 lead, allowing King to open his account. Despite this, Mervyn struggled on the scoring phase throughout, allowing Mensur to triumph in routine fashion.
Suljovic will face Number 2 seed Michael Smith tomorrow, after the World Number 8 defeated Jamie Caven 6-3 in the afternoon’s penultimate contest. Smith, fresh from a Grand Slam semi-final a fortnight ago, started strongly, opening up a 2-0 lead with a 100 average.
However, Michael’s scoring began to dip slightly and Caven capitalised, winning successive legs with ease to restore parity. Jabba was on the verge of moving 3-2 ahead prior to the intermission, but Smith stopped the rot with a nerveless 92 checkout.
Smith missed D12 for a 144 checkout, but returned to double his advantage, before he moved to the cusp of victory with a clean 62 finish. Caven prolonged the contest courtesy of D8, but Smith sealed the win in the ninth leg, taking out 11, having narrowly missed D11 for a 142 clincher.
Smith was far from his best, but it was an accomplished performance from the World Youth Champion. ‘Bully-Boy’ averaged a shade over 91 and hit a respectable 46% on the doubles, to continue his good form in front of the TV cameras.
Cash Converters Players Championship Finals
Friday November 27
Afternoon Session (12.45pm-5pm)
Justin Pipe (16) 1-6 Vincent van der Voort (17)
Terry Jenkins (11) 3-6 Alan Norris (22)
Jelle Klaasen (10) 4-6 Gerwyn Price (23)
Benito van de Pas (13) 6-4 Stephen Bunting (20)
Mensur Suljovic (15) 6-1 Mervyn King (18)
Brendan Dolan (14) 2-6 Simon Whitlock (19)
Michael Smith (2) 6-3 Jamie Caven (31)
Kim Huybrechts (5) 2-6 Daryl Gurney (28)