Stephen Bunting ended his five-year wait for a PDC title with victory at Players Championship 17 on Monday, defeating World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van den Bergh 8-4 in the final at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
The former Lakeside world champion began the day just outside the provisional qualification places for this month’s World Matchplay, but his third PDC ranking title all but assures ‘The Bullet’ of his place at the Winter Gardens in just under a fortnight.
The recent PDC World Championship semi-finalist recorded wins over five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld and world No 1 Gerwyn Price en route to the final, before capping off a memorable day by denying Van den Bergh to scoop the £10,000 top prize.
Van den Bergh boasted a remarkable tournament average of 103.52 ahead of Monday’s showpiece, but the Belgian was unable to assert his authority, as Bunting claimed the game’s first break of throw inside 13 darts to establish a 3-1 cushion.
The 36-year-old – who considered quitting the sport just a few years ago – missed double 12 for a nine-dart finish in leg eight, eventually settling for a 10-darter as he roared into a 6-2 cushion, but Van den Bergh kept his hopes alive with legs of 15 and 13 darts to reduce the arrears to 6-4.
However, Bunting moved to within a leg of victory after Van den Bergh squandered two darts at double for a third consecutive leg, and ‘The Bullet’ endured no finishing-line fever, converting a 64 kill on tops to wrap up his first Pro Tour success since 2016.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be stood here as a winner again,” Bunting told Dan Dawson. “A lot of people know I was close to packing in a few years ago but since then I’ve worked so hard behind the scenes, I’ve put everything into this.
“Trying to qualify for the World Matchplay was my priority this week, so to come here and win the title on the first day is beyond my dreams. I know I’m playing well, but I do honestly believe there is a lot more in the locker and I can relax now knowing I’m going to Blackpool.”
Van den Bergh was unable to land his second Players Championship title of 2021, despite firing in five ton-plus averages and registering victories over the likes of Vincent van der Voort, Brendan Dolan and Premier League runner-up Jose De Sousa, but he will buoyed by his performances as he gears up for his impending Matchplay defence.
Michael van Gerwen surrendered a 5-2 cushion against world champion Price in a captivating quarter-final showdown, which saw ‘The Green Machine’ exit with a 109 average. However, the Dutchman’s wait for a title in 2021 continues, as he endures his longest title drought since 2012.
Elsewhere, Brendan Dolan and Mervyn King cemented their places in the Pro Tour Order of Merit qualifying positions for the Matchplay after enjoying runs to the quarter-finals, with just three events remaining before the cut-off.
Meanwhile, 2010 Winter Gardens finalist Van Barneveld remained in touch with the chasing pack after reaching the last eight for a third time on the Pro Tour in 2021, although the legendary Dutchman still sits £4,750 adrift of qualification.
Van Barneveld posted a 115.73 average in his opening round win over Justin Pipe – his highest average recorded in a Players Championship event. The 54-year-old also defeated Devon Petersen, Jamie Hughes and Chris Dobey, before succumbing to eventual champion Bunting in the quarter-finals.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2021 Players Championship 17
Monday July 5
Stephen Bunting 6-4 Ritchie Edhouse
Raymond van Barneveld 6-3 Chris Dobey
Michael van Gerwen 6-5 Danny Noppert
Gerwyn Price 6-2 Damon Heta
José de Sousa 6-2 Maik Kuivenhoven
Mervyn King 6-3 Jonny Clayton
Brendan Dolan 6-3 Ryan Joyce
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-1 Vincent van der Voort
Stephen Bunting 6-2 Raymond van Barneveld
Gerwyn Price 6-5 Michael van Gerwen
José de Sousa 6-3 Mervyn King
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-3 Brendan Dolan
Stephen Bunting 7-5 Gerwyn Price
Dimitri Van den Bergh 7-4 José de Sousa
Stephen Bunting 8-4 Dimitri Van den Bergh