Three-time women’s world champion Lisa Ashton enjoyed her first taste of PDC action as the 2017 PDC Challenge Tour got underway in Milton Keynes over the weekend. ‘The Lancashire Rose’ enjoyed mixed fortunes in the opening four events of the year, but produced a string of fine performances to reach the latter stages of Sunday’s final event.
Ashton remains a prominent figure on the BDO circuit, but BDO members who featured at last year’s Lakeside are permitted to compete on the Challenge Tour. Ashton wasn’t the only high-profile BDO star present in Milton Keynes. Former World Masters quarter-finalist Pip Blackwell also competed, but failed to go beyond round-three in any event.
Ashton suffered successive first-round defeats in Saturday’s opening events, although she fell victim to unfortunate draws. She was beaten 5-1 by UK Open ever-present Alex Roy in Event One, before being edged out in a last-leg decider by the experienced Scott Marsh in the second event.
However, the 46-year-old produced far better showings on Sunday. She clinched her first win of the weekend by recording an emphatic 5-1 victory against Jim Moston, who won the inaugural Junior European Championships last September. However, Ashton then succumbed to Josh McCarthy in round-two; losing in another last-leg shootout.
Nevertheless, ‘The Lancashire Rose’ saved her best until last by reaching round-four in the final event of the weekend; dropping just six legs in the process. Ashton lost three legs in disposing of Sam Head and John Brown respectively, before registering a hard-fought 5-3 victory over David Evans in round-three.
This set up a tasty last 32 clash against two-time Development Tour winner Reece Robinson, but Ashton was cruelly edged out in her third deciding-leg defeat of the weekend. Despite this, she accrued £100 in prize money by virtue of reaching round-four and will take great encouragement from a series of convincing triumphs.
The Bolton ace has enjoyed a memorable 2017 thus far, having defeated Australia’s Corrine Hammond in straight sets to win her third BDO World Championship title in January. She also defeated Lorraine Winstanley to win last weekend’s Hal Open, whilst she was beaten 5-4 in the final of February’s Dutch Open by world number one Deta Hedman.
Ashton is a rather late bloomer in darting terms. The 46-year-old has won an incredible 33 ranking titles in the BDO system, but just four of those came prior to her 40th birthday. In addition, 21 of those 33 titles have come within the last three years, including two of her three world titles.
Besides her three World Championship titles, she has also won a host of other major titles. The women’s world number two sealed the World Masters title in 2011, whilst she has won the BDO World Trophy for two years in succession.
As well as amassing an illustrious haul of major honours, Ashton also boasts the ladies world record televised average, which she set in the BDO World Trophy quarter-finals at the Lakeside last May.
Corrine Hammond was once again Ashton’s victim, as the 46-year-old thrashed the Australian 5-1 with a magnificent 98.84 average. This eclipsed the 17-year record set by ten-time world champion Trina Gulliver, who had averaged 97.56 to defeat Francis Hoenselaar in the 1999 World Masters final.
Many darts fans have urged the BDO to include Ashton as one of the eight representatives in this year’s Grand Slam of Darts, although Lisa wouldn’t be the first woman to compete in the unique cross-code tournament.
Three-time world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova became the first female representative at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall and claimed the scalp of Vincent van der Voort in the group stages. Francis Hoenselaar, Tricia Wright and the late Stacy Bromberg also featured in further stagings of the tournament, but didn’t record any victories.
Whilst Ashton’s PDC debut attracted great interest, Challenge Tour debutant Aaron Dyer stole the show in Milton Keynes. The 24-year-old trousered £4,000 by winning two of the opening four events. Devon’s Paul Milford won Saturday’s second competition, whilst Lee Evans secured his maiden PDC title to claim glory in Event Three.