Joe Cullen claimed the first PDC ranking title of the 2021 campaign with a dramatic 8-7 victory over Masters champion Jonny Clayton at Players Championship One in Bolton on Thursday.
Cullen defeated the Welshman in an absorbing last-leg thriller at the recent World Championship, and history repeated itself in the opening event of the Super Series, as the 31-year-old kept his cool to clinch his sixth PDC ranking title and pocket the £10,000 top prize.
Clayton stormed into a 2-0 lead with legs of 15 and 12 darts, only for Cullen to reel off three legs without reply to wrestle back the initiative. The topsy-turvy nature of the contest continued as the pair traded sequences of two straight legs, until another 15-darter from Clayton levelled the final at 5-5.
Cullen appeared on the cusp of victory after firing in legs of 14 and 16 darts to move 7-5 ahead, yet Clayton fought back valiantly, following up a classy 108 kill with an emphatic 13-dart hold to force a decider, where the Bradford star defied finishing-line fever to seal the deal via double 10.
This title marked Cullen’s third title in the space of the last 12 months, but he was given an early scare in his opener, defying a spirited comeback to overcome Ryan Meikle in a last-leg shootout, before coming through another gruelling tussle against Ryan Murray.
‘The Rockstar’ then posted successive ton-plus averages in defeating former BDO world champion Scott Waites and two-time major semi-finalist Chris Dobey, easing past Waites 6-2 and edging out ‘Hollywood’ in his second deciding-leg tussle of the day.
The 31-year-old accounted for German number one Gabriel Clemens in the last eight, which set up a semi-final showdown against world No 5 Nathan Aspinall, who survived match darts to defeat Rob Cross. However, Cullen reeled off four straight legs from 4-3 down against ‘The Asp’ to triumph.
Clayton produced a string of sublime displays to follow up his maiden televised title in Milton Keynes last month with another strong showing to kick off the Super Series; averaging 103.6 to defeat Maik Kuivenhoven 6-3 in his opener.
‘The Ferret’ moved into round three with a comfortable win over former World Youth finalist Adam Gawlas, before coming through a last-leg thriller against Pro Tour debutant Alan Soutar, who had beaten Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall to make a dream start to life on the professional circuit.
Clayton stormed into the last eight with emphatic wins against his compatriot Lewis Williams and nine-time major winner James Wade, before overcoming another Welshman in the semi-finals; whitewashing surprise package Jon Worsley 7-0 with a stunning 109.6 average.
Raymond van Barneveld’s return to the Pro Tour saw him suffer a deciding-leg defeat to World Championship semi-finalist Stephen Bunting. Van Barneveld recovered from 5-1 down to force a decider, only for ‘The Bullet’ to fire in a 12-dart leg on throw to prevail.
Elsewhere, world champion Gerwyn Price was beaten 6-2 in the second round by Gary Anderson – a rematch of last month’s World Championship final – while Peter Wright succumbed 6-1 to Pro Tour debutant Michael Unterbuchner at the same stage of the tournament.
Michael van Gerwen relinquished a 5-3 lead against exciting newcomer Lewis Williams in round three, as the Welshman converted a brace of 111 finishes and survived match darts in the closing stages to claim the scalp of ‘The Green Machine’.
Dimitri Van den Bergh and Adrian Lewis suffered first round defeats, while Premier League champion Glen Durrant was beaten by emerging Irish ace Keane Barry in round two. Dave Chisnall and Jose De Sousa also exited in the second round, despite posting mammoth averages in their openers.
Michael Smith bowed out in the quarter-finals, although he made a stunning start to Thursday’s proceedings – conjuring up a nine-dart leg in his first round clash against former BDO star Geert de Vos, who registered an average in excess of 103 in vain.
Nevertheless, it was Cullen who claimed the spoils to make it back-to-back Pro Tour victories – albeit months apart – which lifts him to second on the Pro Tour Order of Merit, less than £4,000 behind world No 1 Price.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC