Raymond van Barneveld secured his return to the professional darting circuit on a thrilling fourth and final day of the 2021 PDC Qualifying Schools, as former Lakeside winner Scott Mitchell and Russia’s Boris Koltsov clinched outright Tour Cards on Wednesday afternoon.
Van Barneveld’s qualification was one of the biggest stories in Niedernhausen, as the five-time world champion regained his PDC Tour Card, less than 14 months after bowing out at the 2020 World Championship.
The 53-year-old succumbed to Darin Young on his Alexandra Palace farewell in December 2019, but having revealed his plans to return in September, Van Barneveld took his first step on the comeback trail by claiming a Tour Card via the European Q-School Order of Merit.
“I’m feeling really happy. I was so desperate to do well today, because I had a bad run yesterday losing [in] the first round. I was really nervous, but when I won the second game against Benito van de Pas, it was [such] relief, that one single point,” said Barney.
“I accomplished that and I feel renewed and I feel really good now to be back on the tour, and hopefully next week I can show the world again what Raymond van Barneveld can do.”
The doyen of Dutch darts occupied a spot in the provisional top eight heading into the final day, although his hopes were hanging in the balance after he suffered a shock opening round exit against Switzerland’s Stefan Bellmont on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, having kicked off proceedings with a whitewash win over Germany’s Daniel Meyer, Van Barneveld edged out his compatriot Benito van de Pas 6-4, before storming to his second 6-0 win of the day against another Dutchman in the shape of Willem Mandigers.
The five-time world champion then defied a nine-darter from Martin Schindler to prevail in a high-quality last 16 tussle, yet Schindler had already done enough to secure his immediate return to the Pro Tour, courtesy of his performances over the opening three days.
Van Barneveld eventually lost out to his fellow countryman Niels Zonneveld in the last eight after missing match darts, and Zonneveld progressed to Wednesday’s final to claim one of the eight available Tour cards via the European Order of Merit.
Russia’s World Cup captain Boris Koltsov was all but assured of a Tour Card ahead of the day’s play, but he sealed the deal in style on day four, defeating Zonneveld to win a card outright – becoming the first Russian to accomplish professional darting status.
The 32-year-old has featured in four World Championships since making his debut in 2014, while also representing his country on five separate occasions at the World Cup, but now he’ll be a permanent fixture on the Pro Tour for the first time in his career.
Zoran Lerchbacher, John Michael and German duo Michael Unterbuchner and Robert Marijanovic were the other players to secure a Tour Card in Europe – with Austrian brothers Rowby-John and Rusty-Jake Rodriguez missing out despite reaching the last eight on Wednesday.
In the UK Qualifying School, 2015 BDO world champion Scott Mitchell produced a series of sublime displays to claim a coveted two-year Tour Card in Milton Keynes, having narrowly missed out 12 months ago.
‘Scotty Dog’ saw off Alan Norris, Gary Butcher, Graham Usher, Shaun McDonald, Carl Wilkinson and Andrew Gilding in his run to the final, and although this assured him of his Tour Card, he completed the job with an emphatic 6-2 victory over Danny Baggish in Wednesday’s finale.
“It’s massive, honestly,” said the 50-year-old. “I’m a farmer’s kid from this little village in the New Forest – this isn’t normal for us! They know me as Scotty the tractor driver, and I just keep trying to be me. I’m just so pleased – today I’ve been in tears.”
Despite losing out in the final, Baggish did enough to claim the 13th and final qualification spot via the UK Q-School Order of Merit, as proceedings went right to the wire at the Marshall Arena.
‘The Gambler’ was without a point following three days of action, but he defied the odds in sensational style on day four, registering six consecutive victories to achieve his darting destiny.
The 2019 North American champion made his name on the World Series circuit 18 months ago, before more recently claiming the scalps of Damon Heta and two-time world champion Adrian Lewis at Alexandra Palace, until his impressive run was eventually curtailed by Glen Durrant.
Having progressed to the final, Baggish required the solitary leg against Mitchell and he wrapped that up without alarm, as the pair traded holds to kick off proceedings. However, Mitchell soon established control and triumphed with a sublime 121 checkout, to finish his campaign with a bang.
Elsewhere, former UK Open semi-finalist Andrew Gilding and Peter Hudson claimed their Tour Cards via the Order of Merit with runs to the semi-finals, whilst Eddie Lovely’s quarter-final showing was sufficient to seal his spot on the PDC Pro Tour.
John Brown joins his father Steve on the professional circuit after claiming the penultimate spot in the rankings, while Brett Claydon, Jonathan Worsley, Joe Murnan and Alan Soutar also secured their Tour Cards on Wednesday.
Australia’s Gordon Mathers did enough by virtue of reaching the final on Tuesday, while Jack Main, Martin Lukeman and Lewis Williams had already secured their progression after three days of action at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena.
Image Credit: PDC Europe
In the UK, the 13 places available from the Order of Merit went to:
In Europe, the eight places on offer from the Order of Merit went to:
Raymond van Barneveld
European Qualifying School Final Stage Day Four
Rowby-John Rodriguez 6-1 Kenny Neyens
Adam Gawlas 6-3 Owen Roelofs
Boris Koltsov 6-4 Michael Rasztovits
Michael Unterbuchner 6-3 Stefan Nilles
Niels Zonneveld 6-3 Patrick Bulen
Raymond van Barneveld 6-4 Martin Schindler
Robert Marijanovic 6-5 Lukas Wenig
Rusty-Jake Rodriguez 6-5 Christian Kist
Adam Gawlas 6-2 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Boris Koltsov 6-5 Michael Unterbuchner
Niels Zonneveld 6-5 Raymond van Barneveld
Robert Marijanovic 6-3 Rusty-Jake Rodriguez
Boris Koltsov 6-2 Adam Gawlas
Niels Zonneveld 6-4 Robert Marijanovic
Boris Koltsov 6-4 Niels Zonneveld
UK Qualifying School Final Stage Day Four
Eddie Lovely 6-2 Sam Cankett
Peter Hudson 6-5 Kevin McDine
Shane McGuirk 6-5 Liam Meek
Danny Baggish 6-2 Matt Jackson
Scott Mitchell 6-2 Shaun McDonald
Carl Wilkinson 6-4 Jim Williams
Andrew Gilding 6-2 Jamie Clark
Mark Dudbridge 6-4 Kevin Garcia
Peter Hudson 6-3 Eddie Lovely
Danny Baggish 6-5 Shane McGuirk
Scott Mitchell 6-3 Carl Wilkinson
Andrew Gilding 6-3 Mark Dudbridge
Danny Baggish 6-2 Peter Hudson
Scott Mitchell 6-4 Andrew Gilding
Scott Mitchell 6-2 Danny Baggish