Luke Humphries clinched his maiden senior ranking title with a brilliant 8-4 defeat of Ryan Searle in the final of Saturday’s opening Players Championship event in Barnsley.
The former World Youth champion enjoyed a fruitful 2021 campaign, reaching a first major final in March’s UK Open final, appearing in his third World Championship quarter-final in three years and featuring in three Pro Tour finals, to close in on a place in the world’s top 16.
Humphries squandered five match darts to defeat world No 3 Michael van Gerwen at last weekend’s season-opening Masters, but he issued the perfect response at the Barnsley Metrodome, to capture the first ranking title of the 2022 season.
The 26-year-old signalled his intent with a 101 average and a whitewash win over former World Youth champion Keegan Brown in his opener, before registering 6-2 wins over Radek Szaganski and Kevin Doets, averaging 99 and 104 respectively.
‘Cool Hand’ eased into the quarter-finals with a 6-3 success over Ritchie Edhouse, who dumped out World Championship runner-up Michael Smith in the previous round, to set up a mouth-watering last eight showdown against newly crowned Masters champion Joe Cullen.
Humphries was forced to survive a match dart in a gripping deciding-leg clash against ‘The Rockstar’, before emerging through another last-leg epic against Daryl Gurney in the semi-finals.
Following a positive end to 2021, the two-time major winner continued his fine form by dumping out Van Gerwen and Anderson to reach the last four, but he was rendered helpless in the latter stages against Humphries, who fired in successive 180s and sealed his spot in Saturday’s showpiece with a 10-dart hold.
The Newbury ace made a flying start against his close friend Searle, racing into a commanding 4-0 cushion. He followed up a 64 kill in the opener with legs of 11 and 14 darts, before converting a 113 finish on tops to continue the procession.
Humphries looked set to increase his lead to 5-0 following another fine scoring leg, but having squandered three darts at double for a 5-0 advantage, Searle sparked into action, reeling off three successive legs – featuring a tidy 117 combination in leg seven.
Humphries stopped the rot with a 15-dart hold, before conjuring up a sensational 161 checkout to stretch his lead to 6-3, despite Searle leaving 16 after nine darts. The pair then traded convincing holds, before Humphries followed up his sixth maximum with a 13-darter on tops to scoop the £12,000 top prize.
“It feels amazing,” reflected Humphries post-match. “I’ve had some great achievements already in my career, but this tops everything.
“Me and Ryan are really close friends. We played practice games [together today] and actually both said we were loving the throw, feeling good today and let’s make the final together.
“We knew we were in separately halves [of the draw] and said we could make the final, and we did. I’ve achieved a that one title but I feel like Ryan’s the next person to go on and do incredible things.
“He’s got that level that can beat anybody in the world. We’re going to be looking at this year as a stepping stone for us to progress, and I believe in the next couple of years, with the talent that we’ve got, we could pick up a major title.”
Searle was denied a third Pro Tour title of his career in Barnsley, but ‘Heavy Metal’ reaffirmed his credentials with a series of sublime displays, averaging 101.36 for the entire tournament.
The Players Championship Finals runner-up dropped just nine legs across his opening five matches, dumping out former BDO major winner Geert de Vos in round one, which was followed by 6-2 wins over Niels Zonneveld and Cameron Menzies.
Searle fired in a 106 average to demolish Jason Lowe 6-1 in the last 16, but that was usurped by an astonishing quarter-final performance against Krzysztof Ratajski. The world No 16 averaged 115, and posted legs of 13, 14, 12, 11, 14 and 12 to thrash ‘The Polish Eagle’ by the same scoreline.
This set up a blockbuster semi-final showdown against world champion Peter Wright, and Searle avenged his recent televised defeats to the Scot, recovering from 3-2 adrift to prevail in a high-quality affair, which saw both players average over 102.
Wright followed up Thursday’s Premier League triumph in Cardiff with a run to the last four, including a 6-0 whitewash of Jonny Clayton in the last eight, in a repeat of their encounter at the Motorpoint Arena.
Gary Anderson impressed in reaching the last eight, defeating Darius Labanauskas, Callan Rydz, Ross Smith and Jose De Sousa, while Masters champion Cullen also succumbed at the quarter-final stage, having whitewashed Dave Chisnall in a repeat of last weekend’s Masters showpiece.
Current Challenge Tour Order of Merit leader Scott Williams won through to the last 16 before falling to an inspired Peter Wright, while fellow Associate Member Lee Evans also advanced to round four, recovering from 5-0 down to dump out Rob Cross in a remarkable second-round tie.
Image Credit: Taka Wu/PDC
2022 Players Championship 1
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-5 Kim Huybrechts
Ryan Searle 6-1 Jason Lowe
Peter Wright 6-1 Scott Williams
Jonny Clayton 6-2 Stephen Bunting
Gary Anderson 6-3 Jose de Sousa
Daryl Gurney 6-3 Lee Evans
Luke Humphries 6-3 Ritchie Edhouse
Joe Cullen 6-0 Dave Chisnall
Ryan Searle 6-1 Krzysztof Ratajski
Peter Wright 6-0 Jonny Clayton
Daryl Gurney 6-5 Gary Anderson
Luke Humphries 6-5 Joe Cullen
Ryan Searle 7-5 Peter Wright
Luke Humphries 7-6 Daryl Gurney
Luke Humphries 8-4 Ryan Searle