Raymond van Barneveld clinched his first PDC ranking title since 2013 as he marked his return to the sport with a sensational triumph at Players Championship Three on Saturday afternoon, in just his third ranking event since coming out of retirement.
Having bowed out from the sport following the 2020 World Championship, Van Barneveld announced his intention to return to the sport five months ago, and he sealed his place back on the circuit after claiming a PDC Tour Card at European Qualifying School in Niedernhausen last week.
The Bolton Whites Hotel was the venue for Barney’s first PDC televised triumph in the 2006 UK Open, and the five-time world champion rolled back the years to scoop his first individual title for almost seven years with a dramatic 8-6 win over Joe Cullen in an enthralling finale.
Van Barneveld’s last individual triumph came in the 2014 Premier League, where he defeated Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen on the same night to lift the coveted title. Nevertheless, his first Pro Tour crown in eight years was similarly seismic, albeit for very different reasons.
“I can’t express how happy I am. Today it all went right, I had the focus I never had for the last two or three years,” said Van Barneveld. “I was an amateur last week and one week later I’m winning a ProTour, that’s what you can do if you believe in yourself.
“I was so focused on winning that Tour Card, then I came here to the Super Series and I thought ‘wow, this is another level’ and I asked myself ‘can I do this again?’ Yes, of course I can if I believe. It’s all about belief.
“I have to thank my management team who are making sure I practice every single day, which I’ve never done before in my life. When I came here I thought ‘this is my place’.
“Bolton has been good to me. Joe played amazing in the final, he is a class player and I knew I had to take my chances,” added the decorated Dutchman.
In a battle of the former postmen, Cullen delivered the goods in the early stages, firing in a hat-trick of 13-darters to lead 3-1. However, Van Barneveld rectified matters by winning three of the next four legs to restore parity at four apiece, after Cullen missed tops for a 160 kill and a 5-3 buffer.
The Bradford ace regained the initiative with a brilliant 119 combination on the bullseye but Barney responded in sublime style, converting a 144 finish to level once more.
The tension was tangible as both players displayed fragility on the outer ring, but a clinical two-dart 80 finish from RvB moved him to the brink of victory, which he duly sealed via double three in a dramatic 14th leg, after ‘The Rockstar’ squandered seven darts at double to force a decider.
It ended a run of eight consecutive defeats in individual finals for the doyen of Dutch darts, while his fifth successive win over Cullen provides him with a terrific platform to return to the TV stages, particularly the World Championship, by virtue of the £10,000 winner’s prize.
Van Barneveld kicked off his campaign with a 6-3 win over Poland’s Krzysztof Kciuk, before claiming a landmark victory over world No 4 Rob Cross. The Dutchman had failed to win any of his eight previous meetings against ‘Voltage’, but he survived match darts to prevail in an epic tussle.
The 53-year-old then came through another gruelling last-leg shootout to dump out Masters finalist Mervyn King, which he followed up with a stunning 6-1 success over Darius Labanauskas – avenging his World Championship defeat against the Lithuanian with a 105.7 average.
This set up a last eight showdown against impressive newcomer Alan Soutar, who followed up wins over Adrian Lewis, Dave Chisnall and Peter Wright over the first two days by defeating Nathan Aspinall en route to reaching his maiden Pro Tour quarter-final.
However, a magnificent 170 checkout from Van Barneveld in leg two was the catalyst for a dominant 6-2 victory, which saw him advance to a semi-final clash against Ian White – the winner of 13 ranking titles.
‘The Diamond’ produced some sparkling displays to account for Ryan Searle, James Wade and Glen Durrant en route to the last four, although he was denied a place in Saturday’s showpiece by a rampant Van Barneveld, who stormed to a 7-3 win with a 100.5 average.
Fresh from claiming his sixth PDC title on Thursday, Cullen received a bye through to the second round, courtesy of Gerwyn Price’s withdrawal. ‘The Iceman’ has been suffering with an ear infection in Bolton, and his departure meant Cullen advanced as the top seed.
‘The Rockstar’ soon found his feet however, battling past Rowby-John Rodriguez in his opener, before posting three consecutive ton-plus averages to breeze through to the semi-finals for the loss of just six legs.
The 31-year-old accounted for ‘Rapid’ Ricky Evans in the last 32, before following up a whitewash win over two-time major winner Daryl Gurney with an emphatic 6-2 drubbing of Krzysztof Ratajski in the quarter-finals, which saw Cullen post an impressive 104.9 average.
Cullen took on Danny Noppert in the last four, after ‘Noppie’ ended Jonny Clayton’s hopes of reaching a remarkable third straight Super Series final. Nevertheless, ‘The Rockstar’ ensured it wouldn’t be a double Dutch final, wrapping up a convincing 7-3 win over the former Lakeside finalist.
Despite Cullen’s brilliance, the day belonged to Raymond van Barneveld, who has an affinity with this venue. Fifteen years since announcing his arrival in the PDC at the Bolton Whites Hotel, the Den Haag veteran repeated the feat to add another incredible chapter to his darting story.
However, it was a day to forget for his compatriot Michael van Gerwen. The three-time world champion succumbed 6-3 to Labanauskas in his opener, as his lacklustre start to the 2021 campaign continued.
Michael Smith was another notable first round casualty, while Aspinall’s hopes of making a third consecutive semi-final were curtailed by Soutar in his opener.
Gary Anderson, Dave Chisnall, Rob Cross and Dimitri Van den Bergh all departed in round two, despite the Belgian posting a sensational 111.9 average in his second round tussle against Stephen Bunting.
Mensur Suljovic was beaten in the third round, although ‘The Gentle’ made his mark earlier in the day, producing a magical nine-darter in the deciding leg of his first round tie against Peter Hudson, where Suljovic had trailed 5-2 at one stage.
Peter Wright, Jose De Sousa and James Wade all enjoyed runs to the last 16, while Premier League champion Glen Durrant made a welcome return to form; defeating ‘Snakebite’ to reach the last eight, before exiting at the hands of a clinical White.
Image Credit: PDC Europe
2021 Players Championship 3
Saturday February 27
Joe Cullen 6-0 Daryl Gurney
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-4 Devon Petersen
Jonny Clayton 6-3 José de Sousa
Danny Noppert 6-0 Eddie Lovely
Raymond van Barneveld 6-1 Darius Labanauskas
Alan Soutar 6-4 Keane Barry
Glen Durrant 6-4 Peter Wright
Ian White 6-3 James Wade
Joe Cullen 6-2 Krzysztof Ratajski
Danny Noppert 6-4 Jonny Clayton
Raymond van Barneveld 6-2 Alan Soutar
Ian White 6-1 Glen Durrant
Joe Cullen 7-3 Danny Noppert
Raymond van Barneveld 7-3 Ian White
Raymond van Barneveld 8-6 Joe Cullen