Joe Cullen clinched his second title of 2022 with victory in Players Championship Three in Wigan, sealed with an 8-4 success over Damon Heta in Saturday’s showpiece.
‘The Rockstar’ has enjoyed a whirlwind few weeks – scooping his maiden televised title at the Masters to earn a Premier League call-up, and he continued his superb form to add a sixth Players Championship crown to his growing haul.
Cullen lost out to Jonny Clayton in Thursday’s Liverpool final in the Cazoo Premier League, only to make amends by landing the £12,000 top prize in the opening event of this weekend’s Players Championship double-header at the Robin Park Tennis Centre.
The 32-year-old was nowhere near his blistering best in the early stages of Saturday’s action, yet he breezed into the last 16 with emphatic wins over Florian Hempel, Gordon Mathers and Vincent van der Voort, before defying a late rally from Daryl Gurney to advance to the last eight.
However, the world No 11 produced the goods in his quarter-final clash against Jose De Sousa, averaging 101 to recover from 3-1 adrift, sealing the comeback with a sublime 12-darter.
Cullen struggled for large periods of his semi-final showdown against newcomer Connor Scutt, although from 4-2 down, Cullen reeled off four consecutive legs to shift the pendulum; eventually closing out a 7-5 victory.
There was a significant disparity in averages between Cullen and Heta ahead of this afternoon’s finale, although ‘The Rockstar’ followed up a clinical 109 kill in leg one with an 11-dart hold to assert his authority on proceedings.
Heta replied with an 11-darter of his own to open his account, only for Cullen to extend his lead to 5-1, courtesy of 14, 13 and 16-dart legs. ‘The Heat’ was undeterred however, doubling his tally with a classy 128 checkout, which sparked a three-leg sequence for the Australian.
Nevertheless, the decisive moment came in leg ten. Heta posted a stunning 171 set-up shot to leave tops, but was left to rue three missed darts at double for five apiece, and Cullen capitalised, following up a 115 checkout in the penultimate leg with a 14-darter to clinch his ninth senior PDC title.
“It’s been a tough slog today but to win it is amazing. I’ve played terribly today and won the tournament, so what more can you ask for?” Cullen admitted.
“I played well against Jose in the quarter-finals, and I knew that Damon was playing really well so I had to try to stick with him, nick the odd leg against the darts – I stayed in front and it was enough.
“When you can grind results out, it’s more satisfying than the ton-plus averages. I think the ProTours that I’ve won before, I’ve played decent and I’ve won them – today I’ve played terribly and I think this is my best ProTour win yet.
“There’s no better feeling than winning titles. To win the Masters and to get a ProTour under my belt early doors is definitely a big confidence boost.”
Heta’s solitary PDC ranking title in 2020 saw him topple Cullen in the final, although he was unable to replicate those exploits in Wigan, despite boasting an astonishing tournament average of 102.93.
The world No 28 produced a plethora of sublime performances throughout Saturday’s event, following up a 99 average in his opening win over Josh Rock by posting five consecutive ton-plus averages.
Heta defied a nine-dart finish from Canadian Matt Campbell to record a 6-4 success in round two, before defeating former Lakeside world champion Stephen Bunting by the same scoreline in his board final.
The 34-year-old dispatched Alan Soutar and Joe Murnan with 104 and 106 averages respectively, but he saved his best for the semi-finals, averaging 109.03 to prevail 7-4 against Michael van Gerwen, in a contest littered with quality.
‘The Green Machine’ overcame his Dutch rival Raymond van Barneveld in round three and also toppled James Wade in the last eight, yet the three-time world champion was rendered helpless against an inspired Heta, who was averaging 115 for large periods of their last-four tie.
Scutt acquitted himself brilliantly with a run to the semi-finals just a month since securing his PDC Tour Card, while emerging Irish talent Keane Barry formed the quarter-final line-up alongside former Pro Tour event winners De Sousa, Wade and Murnan.
Remarkably, five of the eight players involved in this year’s Premier League failed to reach the last 32, as world No 1 Gerwyn Price, World Championship runner-up Michael Smith and Premier League champion Clayton succumbed in round one.
Price’s early exit provided Peter Wright with the opportunity to secure the coveted world No 1 spot if he claimed Saturday’s title, though the world champion failed to capitalise, losing out to an impressive Max Hopp in a high-quality second-round affair.
Wright’s World Cup partner Gary Anderson departed at the same stage following a spirited rearguard from Van der Voort, while Rob Cross and Dimitri Van den Bergh were condemned to first and second-round exits respectively.
Image Credit: Taylor Lanning/PDC
2022 Players Championship 3
Saturday February 12, Robin Park Tennis Centre, Wigan
James Wade 6-4 Steve West
Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Niels Zonneveld
Joe Murnan 6-5 Jamie Hughes
Damon Heta 6-2 Alan Soutar
Keane Barry 6-0 Kim Huybrechts
Connor Scutt 6-4 Scott Williams
Jose de Sousa 6-5 Lewy Williams
Joe Cullen 6-4 Daryl Gurney
Michael van Gerwen 6-4 James Wade
Damon Heta 6-3 Joe Murnan
Connor Scutt 6-5 Keane Barry
Joe Cullen 6-5 Jose de Sousa
Damon Heta 7-4 Michael van Gerwen
Joe Cullen 7-5 Connor Scutt
Joe Cullen 8-4 Damon Heta