Raymond van Barneveld claimed he felt ‘reborn’ after marking his Alexandra Palace return with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Lourence Ilagan at the World Darts Championship on Monday night.
The five-time world champion infamously bowed out from the sport on this stage two years ago, succumbing 3-1 to Darin Young in his opener, but the doyen of Dutch darts banished any demons with an impressive display to oust Ilagan.
Roared on by a raucous Barney Army, the 54-year-old punished three missed darts at tops from Ilagan in the opening leg to clinch the first set 3-1, firing in 13 and 14 dart-legs consecutively to wrap it up.
‘The Gunner misfired in set two as Van Barneveld doubled his cushion in quick-fire fashion, conjuring up a delightful 121 finish to cap off a 12-dart break.
The Den Haag veteran landed his first 180 to draw first blood in set three, and although Ilagan responded by claiming his second leg of the contest, Barney was unperturbed, leaving 36 after just nine darts in the final leg, before eventually sealing the deal via double nine.
Given the nature of his departure two years ago, there was inevitable scrutiny surrounding Van Barneveld, but his relaxed demeanour paid dividends, as he averaged 96.7 to set up a fascinating showdown against 2018 world champion Rob Cross on Thursday.
“Rob is an amazing darts player and an amazing guy too. I’m really looking forward to this match,” the five-time world champion declared post-match.
“I can play much better, but I won and that’s the main thing. I can’t wait to play Rob Cross, it will be special.”
Van Barneveld also reserved special praise for the crowd in north London, who were relentless in their support of the Dutch darting legend.
“My last game here two years ago was poor. It wasn’t a very good farewell and the crowd deserved better.
“I never thought I was coming back here, because I’d had enough of the game, I was finished. It’s a privilege to be back. I missed it. At the start of the year I had one goal, to be back here.”
James Wade 3-1 Maik Kuivenhoven
Elsewhere, world No 4 James Wade safely navigated his way through to round three with a comfortable 3-1 success over Dutch Pro Tour qualifier Maik Kuivenhoven.
Kuivenhoven averaged 88.6 to Wade’s modest 83.74, but ‘The Machine’ was typically efficient when it mattered, relinquishing just two legs across the opening two sets.
The Dutchman halved the deficit by punishing an abject spell from Wade to clinch it without reply, but the three-time semi-finalist rectified matters in the fourth to confirm his return after the Christmas break.
Rusty-Jake Rodriguez 3-1 Ben Robb
Rusty-Jake Rodriguez enjoyed a winning debut at the World Darts Championship, averaging 93 and registering six maximums to overcome New Zealand qualifier Ben Robb.
The 20-year-old Austrian made a dream start, landing a brace of maximums en route to a 12-dart opener, and he wrapped up the set with a delightful 112 combination.
Robb recovered from 2-1 adrift in the second to square matters, but Rusty-Jake raced through set three in 14, 16 and 14 darts, before threatening a third nine-darter of this year’s event in the closing stages, eventually sealing the deal via double four.
Luke Woodhouse 3-1 James Wilson
Luke Woodhouse will take on Damon Heta for a place in the third round, after battling past former BDO No 1 James Wilson in a scrappy affair.
‘Jammy Dodger’ aptly enjoyed good fortune in the early exchanges, drawing first blood with a two-dart 72 kill after Woodhouse spurned a dart at double 16 for the set.
Woodhouse – who reached the third round at the 2020 event – sank a vital dart at bullseye to level proceedings, and after coming through a tight third set, ‘Woody’ produced 128 and 116 finishes in the fourth to prevail with a 91 average and five 180s.
Image Credit: Chris Dean/PDC