Peter Wright produced the performance of the tournament thus far to defeat Joe Cullen 10-7 in his first competitive outing since being crowned world champion, as Gerwyn Price fended off an inspired fightback from Simon Whitlock to progress to the last eight at the Ladbrokes Masters.
Snakebite defeated Michael van Gerwen on New Year’s Day to become the oldest first-time winner of the PDC World Championship and the Scot continued from where he left off with a top-quality display against ‘The Rockstar’ in Milton Keynes.
Van Gerwen, Rob Cross and James Wade were among the high-profile casualties on Friday’s opening night but Wright avoided the same fate, converting 59% of his attempts at double and registering the highest average of the tournament to book his last eight berth.
The 49-year-old made a roaring start to proceedings, conjuring up finishes of 121, 130 and 90 to open up an early 3-1 cushion, only for Cullen to reel off three straight legs and secure the initiative with a clinical 88 combination on the bull.
His buffer was short-lived as Wright restored parity with a 101 kill, although Cullen continued to defy his opponent’s heavy artillery and levelled up proceedings at five apiece heading into the second interval, courtesy of an effortless 121 outshot.
The contest was littered with quality finishing – Cullen adding a 106 finish to the ever-growing tally in leg 12, although a stunning 10-dart hold from Wright culminating on double two saw him embark on a sprint to the finish, as he won four of the remaining five legs to triumph convincingly.
“It was amazing to be introduced as world champion, but I’ll have to get used to it all year,” quipped Wright. “You’ve just got that target on your back. When I wasn’t world champion I wanted to play the world champion and I wanted to beat the world champion. I’ve got to get that in my mind.”
The world champion will meet 2016 runner-up Dave Chisnall for a place in the semi-finals, after the five-time major finalist defeated seventh seed Daryl Gurney 10-8 for the second successive year in Milton Keynes, averaging 92.92 and piling in nine maximums.
Chisnall, who sported a pair of spectacles on stage for the first time, landed finishes of 100 and 74 to lead 5-2 before two-time major winner Gurney delivered a stinging riposte, converting checkouts of 117 and 81 en route to squaring the tussle at 5-5.
The pair traded the next six legs to make it 8-8 but four missed double attempts from Gurney across the final two legs were suitably punished by Chisnall, who consigned the Northern Irishman to a third consecutive opening round defeat at this event.
“It was hard but I’m feeling good and did a job tonight,” Chisnall reflected. “I’ve got the new glasses and I can see a little bit better but it was tough – it wasn’t the glasses annoying me, I’m getting headaches because I’m still getting used to them.”
Third seed Gerwyn Price survived a major scare to edge out a resilient Simon Whitlock in Saturday night’s finale. Price appeared poised to close out an emphatic win until Whitlock stormed back with a run of five successive legs to force a dramatic decider.
The contest began in spectacular fashion, as both men entered the first interval with averages in excess of 108. Price had a slender 3-2 advantage although a sluggish period from the Welshman upon resumption enabled ‘The Wizard’ to secure a 4-3 advantage.
Nevertheless, the Aussie squandered three clear darts at double for a 5-3 lead and this proved particularly expensive, as ‘The Iceman’ embarked on a sequence of six consecutive legs, which featured three 13-dart legs and checkouts of 72 and 108.
Whitlock rallied with sublime 12 and 11-dart legs to reduce the arrears to 9-6, before capitalising on three missed match darts from the Grand Slam champion to force a last-leg decider. However, Price regained his composure to triumph with an impressive 98.34 average.
He will now face Gary Anderson, who made a winning start to his 2020 campaign with a battling 10-8 success over Ian White. The 2017 Masters finalist wasn’t at his blistering best but capitalised on a profligate display from ‘The Diamond’ to prevail with a solid 97.15 average.
There was little to separate the pair, with no more than two legs between them throughout the match, but at 7-7 Anderson landed the defining blow, firing in a sublime 11-dart break of throw which saw the Scot advance to the quarter-finals and inflict a sixth straight defeat for White at this event.
“Ian’s a good player and he kept coming back when I got in front, but I won and it’s a good start,” said Anderson. “I’ve got a long way to go yet but I’ve had a month or so since the World Championship and I’ve practiced well, so I’ll give it a go tomorrow.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Saturday February 1 (1900 GMT)
Dave Chisnall 10-8 Daryl Gurney
Gary Anderson 10-8 Ian White
Peter Wright 10-7 Joe Cullen
Gerwyn Price 10-9 Simon Whitlock
Sunday February 2
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT)
Adrian Lewis v Michael Smith
Jonny Clayton v Nathan Aspinall
Gerwyn Price v Gary Anderson
Peter Wright v Dave Chisnall