Jonny Clayton secured his first individual PDC major title with an 11-8 victory over Mervyn King in the season-opening Masters, which also saw the Welshman awarded the coveted tenth place in the 2021 Unibet Premier League.
Nine players were announced for this year’s Premier League following the World Championship final on January 3 – with the tenth spot being left open until after The Masters.
Dave Chisnall, Michael Smith and James Wade were among the favourites to claim the final spot in this year’s roadshow, yet the unheralded duo of Clayton and King produced a series of magnificent displays throughout the weekend in Milton Keynes, to set up an intriguing final.
Clayton lifted the World Cup of Darts title alongside Gerwyn Price in November, although it was the Welshman’s second appearance in a major individual final, after he lost out to Michael van Gerwen in the 2017 Players Championship Finals showpiece.
King is no novice when it comes to PDC televised finals. His first came over a decade ago, when he succumbed to Paul Nicholson at the Players Championship Finals in 2010, whilst his most recent defeat came courtesy of a deciding-leg defeat to Van Gerwen at the same event last November.
Nevertheless, in a shoot-out for the final Premier League place, Clayton claimed the spoils; averaging 104.1, landing five maximums and converting 65% of his attempts at double to extend King’s wait for a PDC major, as the 54-year-old suffered a sixth consecutive defeat in a televised final.
Ironically, this year’s showpiece was contested between two players who would not originally have competed in the event before the PDC deviated from their 16-player format and extended the field to 24 participants, but ‘The Ferret’ took full advantage to scoop the £60,000 top prize.
It was a cagey start from both men, which was perhaps unsurprising given the magnitude of the occasion, but King struck the first blow in leg five to establish a 3-2 lead at the break, following up a two-dart 96 kill in leg four with a sublime 128 combination on the bull.
The pair traded holds after the interval, before King defied a scoring surge from Clayton to forge a two-leg buffer at 5-3, following up a delightful 177 with a classy 110 finish, but the Welshman’s scoring power saw the pendulum swing significantly midway through the match.
The World Cup champion followed up a 13-dart hold on tops by crashing in a third maximum and converting a spectacular 136 checkout to level at five apiece, and he continued his charge with three consecutive 15-dart legs to seize control at 8-5.
King conjured up successive 80 checkouts via tops on his own throw to reduce the arrears to 9-7, but Clayton remained coolness personified – effortlessly dispatching a two-dart 81 checkout to complete an 11-darter to move to within a leg of the title.
‘The King’ responded with a skin-saving 70 finish to keep his hopes alive, yet ‘The Ferret’ was not to be denied. King kicked off the leg with a 180, but it was rendered irrelevant as Clayton responded in kind, leaving 16 after just nine darts and wrapping up proceedings with a 12-darter to triumph.
Clayton only learned of his Premier League place as he prepared to lift the Masters trophy, when the news was confirmed on stage by MC John McDonald, but he will now fulfil his ambition by competing in one of darts’ most lucrative events.
“To hear that up there [on stage] was a shock,” he admitted. “I’m over the moon, absolutely chuffed to bits. I was hoping for a place in the Premier League – it’s amazing.”
Clayton balances his darting commitments by working as a plasterer for Carmarthenshire County Council, but he admits he will now consider becoming a full-time professional after claiming his second televised title and a Premier League place.
“Maybe it is time,” he admitted, speaking on ITV. “I need to give it my best shot that I’ve got so it’s a lot of hard thinking, big chats with [wife] Elen and the kids, so let’s see.”
Clayton’s inclusion in the Premier League sees him join Dimitri Van den Bergh, Glen Durrant and Jose de Sousa, who all won their first PDC televised titles in 2020, but he was extended to the very limit in Milton Keynes, only reaching the final after coming through four last-leg deciders.
The Welshman followed up a 6-5 success over Premier League debutant Jose De Sousa with a dramatic last-leg win over Van Gerwen – defying a late rally from the three-time world champion to defeat the Dutchman in the last 16 of the season-opening event for the second straight year.
The 46-year-old produced an inspired comeback in the last eight against James Wade, recovering from 9-6 down to prevail in another epic. Clayton averaged 105.41, landed four ton-plus finishes and boasted a sensational 91% on the outer ring, as Wade bowed out despite averaging 104 himself.
This set up a semi-final showdown against defending champion Peter Wright, who eased past sixth seed Dave Chisnall 10-5 earlier in the afternoon. Clayton made a blistering start to proceedings, storming into a 3-0 lead with a 110 average.
Despite being largely outscored by the Welshman, Wright converted ten of his 17 attempts at double in a spirited display and while he forced a decider, he was rendered helpless as Clayton followed up his sixth 180 with a clinical 62 kill, which wrapped up one of the biggest wins of his career.
King’s progression to the semi-finals was relatively serene, before he was embroiled in a pulsating last-leg decider against newly crowned world champion and world No 1 Gerwyn Price.
The 2014 finalist opened up his campaign with a comprehensive 6-1 win over Premier League champion Glen Durrant on Friday evening, which was followed by a convincing 10-5 success against fourth seed Rob Cross, with King having led 8-1 at one stage.
‘The King’ threatened to whitewash Nathan Aspinall in the quarter-finals, romping into an extraordinary 9-0 lead with a third consecutive ton-plus average. ‘The Asp’ avoided that particular indignity and claimed three legs before departing, which set up King’s clash against ‘The Iceman’.
Price posted averages of 104 and 105 in defeating Joe Cullen and Adrian Lewis en route to the last four, but the Welshman was denied in a topsy-turvy semi-final, as King sealed the deal in the decider with a 127 kill on the bull, despite Price leaving himself poised on 100 after just nine darts.
Image Credit: Chris Dean/PDC
2021 Unibet Premier League Participants
Michael van Gerwen
Dimitri Van den Bergh
Jose de Sousa