Gary Anderson produced a series of sublime displays to clinch the opening Players Championship event of the 2020 season, defeating the returning Jeff Smith 8-4 to register his first individual PDC title since September 2018 on Saturday afternoon at the Barnsley Metrodome.
Anderson has acknowledged that 2020 will be a ‘make or break’ campaign and the early signs have been encouraging. He reached his first individual televised semi-final for 14 months at last weekend’s Masters and made a winning Premier League return against Daryl Gurney on Thursday.
After missing out on last year’s Premier League with a back injury, the two-time world champion struggled to recapture the form that saw him scoop three televised titles in 2018 – with a World Cup of Darts success alongside Peter Wright last summer the solitary source of comfort.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ has vowed to compete more frequently on the Players Championship circuit this year and he made an electrifying start to the Pro Tour season, posting four ton-plus averages en route to scooping the £10,000 top prize.
The world No 6 defeated five top 16 stars en route to reaching the final, before overcoming 2016 Lakeside finalist Smith in Saturday’s showpiece, averaging 98 and posting three 180’s to claim his first individual PDC title since winning the Champions League of Darts almost 18 months ago.
Anderson confidently raced into a 2-0 lead with legs of 14 and 15 darts against the former World Cup of Darts representative, but Smith halved the deficit with a two-dart 62 combination, in a leg which saw both players exchange maximums.
The pair traded three straight holds as Anderson restored his two-leg buffer, before he punished a missed dart at double from Smith to extend his lead with a clinical 84 kill. The Scot moved further clear in leg eight, completing a 15-dart hold after Smith missed the bull for a 130 finish.
The Canadian hit back impressively, following up an 82 outshot by closing out a 13-dart break to reduce the arrears to 6-4, although this didn’t spark an unlikely revival. Anderson hammered in a third maximum and closed out a 13-darter to move one leg away, before taking out 86 to secure glory.
It was a deserved triumph for Anderson, who posted an incredible tournament average of 101.85 over the course of the entire day. In addition, his first nine-dart average of 112.10 was the third highest across the 128-player field.
The two-time world champion kicked off proceedings by posting a mammoth 107.50 average in defeating Christian Bunse – missing double 12 for a nine-darter, before sweeping into the third round courtesy of a resounding 6-1 success against Simon Whitlock.
This set up a last 32 showdown against world No 3 Gerwyn Price in a repeat of their quarter-final clash at the Masters last weekend – a contest Anderson won 10-2. The 49-year-old again came out on top, averaging 104.40 to wrap up a thrilling 6-4 triumph.
The big names kept on coming for Anderson but he remained unperturbed. He brushed aside world No 4 Rob Cross 6-2 in a high-quality tussle, averaging 106.10 to Cross’ 101.50, before defeating Joe Cullen by the same scoreline to progress to the semi-finals, where Adrian Lewis awaited.
‘Jackpot’ defeated the likes of Gabriel Clemens, Darren Webster and Steve Beaton to make a strong start to his Pro Tour season, but Anderson prevailed 7-3 in a battle of the former two-time world champions, averaging 102.20 and sealing the deal with a sumptuous 130 checkout.
Smith, who regained his Tour Card at Q School last month, was denied a first Pro Tour title but he performed magnificently on his return to the professional circuit, defeating three top ten stars to claim the £6,000 runner-up prize in his first Players Championship appearance since 2013.
The former BDO World Championship finalist edged out Dave Chisnall in his first round tie, before recording battling victories over Reece Robinson and Dirk van Duijvenbode respectively – defying a 100 average from the Dutchman in a captivating third round affair.
The 44-year-old then defeated two Premier League stars to reach the semi-finals. He produced a stirring comeback from 4-1 down to defeat UK Open champion Nathan Aspinall with a 101 average, before defying an inspired rally from world champion Peter Wright to prevail in another last-leg epic.
This set up a last four meeting with Brendan Dolan, who defeated world No 1 Michael van Gerwen earlier in the afternoon. However, ‘The History-Maker’ was denied a third Players Championship title since September, with Smith sweeping aside the Northern Irishman 7-2 with a 99 average.
Four-time women’s world champion Lisa Ashton made history last month by becoming the first woman to secure a PDC Tour Card via Qualifying School, although her Pro Tour debut culminated in a 6-2 exit against Dolan in the opening round.
There were a host of other established names who bowed out at the first hurdle, including top 16 stars James Wade, Dave Chisnall, Mensur Suljovic, Ian White and Jonny Clayton, whilst world No 7 Daryl Gurney was thrashed 6-1 by fellow Northern Irishman Mickey Mansell in round two.
Mansell was one of two players to land nine-dart finishes on an incredible day of action in Barnsley – firing in the perfect leg during his first round win over Nathan Derry. Mike van Duivenbode then repeated the feat en route to claiming the scalp of Chris Dobey in his opener.
World No 1 Van Gerwen suffered a third round exit against the impressive Dolan, who averaged 101 to stun ‘The Green Machine’, whilst Grand Slam champion Price was beaten at the same stage by an irrepressible Anderson – his second defeat against the Scot in the space of a week.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC