James Wilson and Jose Justicia were the first players to secure their PDC Tour Cards on the opening day of Final Stage action at the 2022 PDC Qualifying Schools in Milton Keynes and Niedernhausen respectively on Wednesday.
Former BDO world No 1 Wilson came through a field of 128 players to seal an immediate return to the Pro Tour circuit, having relinquished his Tour Card following his opening-round defeat at last month’s World Championship.
The 49-year-old eased through his opening four games for the cumulative loss of just six legs, before he was forced to survive match darts against Kevin Burness in a high-quality quarter-final tussle.
Wilson then took out an incredible 170 finish in the deciding-leg of his semi-final clash against George Killington to book his place in the final, where he dispatched Cameron Menzies 6-1 to ensure his return to the professional circuit.
The Huddersfield-born star has been an ever-present on the PDC circuit since claiming a Tour Card in 2015, and having recovered from a spate of injury problems, he’s determined to make his mark on his return.
“I feel fantastic – I’ve played in the Worlds in the first round, and failed to keep my card. I knew I had to come here, kick on and things went really well,” Wilson reflected.
“I just had to keep focused all day and I’m delighted I have done it. With Covid, I couldn’t defend my money on the European Tour and fell down the rankings, as well as injuries hampering me.
“Here it is really hard work, but after competing at the World Championship I felt confident I could do it. I turn 50 next month, so I’m coming for the older ones like Peter Wright and Gary Anderson to get my slice of the pie before I retire.”
Menzies has come agonisingly close to securing a PDC Tour Card in two previous Q School appearances, and although he was denied at the final hurdle on Wednesday, the Scot is in a strong position via the Order of Merit, with three days of play remaining.
The former Grand Slam participant kicked off his campaign with a resounding 6-2 win over Simon Stevenson, which was followed by a narrow 6-5 success over Darren Johnson.
The 32-year-old dispatched Kai Fan Leung 6-1 to reach the last 16, where he averaged 98 in a whitewash win over Jordan Brooks to progress to the last eight.
Menzies then eased past Lee Budgen to reach the semi-finals, where he claimed the scalp of former Lakeside champion Richie Burnett, who produced a series of classy displays, featuring a first-round victory over his fellow world champion Scott Waites.
Elsewhere in Milton Keynes, Josh Payne landed a stunning nine-dart leg in the deciding leg of his second round victory over Sean Fisher, only for him to succumb to Burness in the last 32.
Lisa Ashton made a strong start in her bid to reclaim a PDC Tour Card, registering wins over Nick Fullwell and Josh McCarthy before narrowly losing out to Gary Blades in the last 32, while Fallon Sherrock was comprehensively beaten by impressive American Danny Lauby in her opener.
Two-time PDC major winner Robert Thornton also bowed out at the first hurdle, losing 6-5 to his compatriot Gary Stone, while World Youth champion Ted Evetts, former Pro Tour winner Darren Webster and 2018 World Championship semi-finalist Jamie Lewis were beaten at the same stage.
Meanwhile, on the opening day of European Qualifying School, Justicia produced a magnificent 104.86 average to whitewash Belgium’s Mario Vandenbogaerde in the final – the highest average of the day across both events.
The Spaniard began his run to the final with a 6-0 demolition of Germany’s Frank Peters, before following up a hard-fought 6-4 win over fellow countryman Jesus Noguera with another whitewash win over a German opponent, Dragutin Horvat.
This was followed by a trio of victories over Dutch opposition, as Justicia eased past Derk Telnekes 6-1, beat Danny Jansen 6-2 and recorded a 6-3 win over Damian Mol to secure his place in the final.
Vandenbogaerde – a BDO World Championship semi-finalist in 2020 – thrashed his fellow Belgian Patrick Bulen 6-1 in his opener, before also claiming the scalp of emerging Frenchman Thibault Tricole.
The 48-year-old booked his semi-final spot with wins over Radek Szaganski and Ricardo Piertreczko, where he registered a 6-4 victory over Vladimir Andersen, who is bidding to become the first Danish player to secure a Tour Card via Qualifying School.
Vandenbogaerde was blown away by a rampant Justicia in the final, and although he was unable to celebrate an automatic Tour Card on Wednesday, he’s put himself in pole position to claim a place via the European Qualifying School Order of Merit.
Former Lakeside champion Jelle Klaasen headlined the 128-player field in Niedernhausen, but the two-time Premier League participant was unceremoniously dumped out by Kenny Neyens in round one.
Rowby-John Rodriguez and Karel Sedlacek were also high-profile first-round casualties, former World Cup finalist Ronny Huybrechts exited in round two, while Benito van de Pas reached round three, before losing out to Spain’s Tony Martinez.
The 2022 PDC Qualifying Schools continue with the second of four days’ action from the Final Stage on Thursday, with two more automatic Tour Cards available for the respective winners in Milton Keynes and Niedernhausen.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2022 PDC Qualifying Schools
UK Qualifying School Final Stage Day One
Cameron Menzies 6-2 Lee Budgen
Richie Burnett 6-2 Chris Quantock
George Killington 6-4 Jarred Cole
James Wilson 6-5 Kevin Burness
Cameron Menzies 6-3 Richie Burnett
James Wilson 6-5 George Killington
James Wilson 6-1 Cameron Menzies
European Qualifying School Final Stage Day One
Mario Vandenbogaerde 6-1 Ricardo Pietreczko
Vladimir Andersen 6-4 Roxy-James Rodriguez
Damian Mol 6-4 Martijn Dragt
Jose Justicia 6-2 Danny Jansen
Mario Vandenbogaerde 6-4 Vladimir Andersen
Jose Justicia 6-3 Damian Mol
Jose Justicia 6-0 Mario Vandenbogaerde