Shaun Carroll and Stephen Burton won the opening two PDC Unicorn Challenge Tour events of 2019 on a marathon day of darts in Wigan on Saturday.
Carroll became the first Challenge Tour winner of the year with a 5-1 victory over Patrick Lynskey in the final of Event One. Carroll failed to register a single victory at the recent PDC Qualifying School, but he produced a series of fine displays to triumph at the Robin Park Tennis Centre.
Carroll kicked off his campaign with a whitewash win over Wesley van Trijp, before edging out Vince Tipple in a deciding leg to book his spot in round-three. The 41-year-old surrendered just six legs in seeing off the trio of Dean Norman, Steve Hine and Lukas Wenig, where he then eased past former Tour Card holder Ritchie Edhouse 5-2 in the quarter-finals.
The former World Masters participant then sneaked through a last-leg shootout against Mick Todd in the semi-finals, averaging 94.10 in the process. This set up a showdown against Patrick Lynskey, who had dumped out the likes of Darren Johnson, Jeffrey de Graaf and Callan Rydz to reach the final, but Carroll ran out a comprehensive 5-1 winner, with an 84.80 average.
Three-time world champion John Part and former Players Championship Finals winner Kevin Painter were making their Challenge Tour debuts, and both men suffered last 128 exits in Event One against Jarred Cole and Prakash Jiwa respectively.
Former PDC World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton was also making his Challenge Tour bow, but he was dumped out in the last 64 by James Kempster, who took out 160 in the decider to triumph. Meanwhile, two-time Lakeside world champion Scott Waites and former Premier League star Wes Newton both suffered surprise opening-round exits.
Four-time women’s world champion Lisa Ashton headlined a list of female entrants which also included recent Lakeside Championship runners-up Lorraine Winstanley and Fallon Sherrock. Ashton and Sherrock both reached the last 64, while Winstanley won two matches before losing out in the last 128.
In Event Two, Stephen Burton survived a match dart as he edged out young Irish star Nathan Rafferty to clinch his maiden Challenge Tour title. Burton reached the last 16 of November’s Players Championship Finals and made his World Championship debut at the Alexandra Palace one month later, yet this victory maintains his impressive progress within the PDC.
Burton began the tournament with a hard-fought 5-3 victory over Egor Tvorogov, but he then dropped just two legs across his next four matches. The Ipswich ace recorded whitewash wins over Chris White, Mike De Decker and Boris Koltsov, while also seeing off Scott Darbyshire en route to reaching the quarter-finals.
Burton averaged 98.90 and 103 in his wins over De Decker and Koltsov, and he continued his fine form to defeat Michael Rasztovits and Jason Wilson to reach the final. Rafferty booked his place in the final with a 5-3 win over Brazilian star Diogo Portela. However, he was left to rue one missed dart at tops in a dramatic final as Burton held his nerve to triumph.
Elsewhere, Part suffered his second last 128 exit of the day as he was beaten 5-1 by Scott Waites in Event Two, but ‘Scotty 2 Hotty’ departed the tournament in the next round. Winstanley also lost out in the last 128 for the second straight event, while Ashton recorded back-to-back last 64 appearances with victories over Matt Padgett and Terry Wood respectively.
Sherrock was defeated by eventual finalist Nathan Rafferty in the last 256, while former world finalist Painter was beaten at the same stage by Jeffrey de Graaf. Hamilton enjoyed a strong showing in Event Two to reach the last 16, while former UK Open semi-finalist Andrew Gilding averaged 114.10 in a stunning 5-1 win over Stuart Kellett, before losing out in the quarter-finals.
Events Three and Four take place tomorrow, and following 20 events, the player who tops the Challenge Tour Order of Merit will book their place at the 2019/20 World Championship. The top two players on the Order of Merit will secure a two-year Tour Card to compete on the PDC Tour in 2020 and 2021, while players third to eighth gain free entry to 2020 Qualifying School.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC