Raymond van Barneveld’s return to competitive darts in 2021 was met with sceptism in many quarters, yet exactly 12 months ago today, the doyen of Dutch darts rolled back the years in extraordinary fashion to claim his first PDC ranking title in eight years.
Having bowed out from the sport following the 2020 World Championship, Van Barneveld regained his place on the circuit after claiming a Tour Card at European Qualifying School in Niedernhausen in February 2021.
The five-time world champion made an immediate impression on his return, defeating Joe Cullen 8-6 in a fascinating Players Championship 3 finale, to scoop the £10,000 top prize in just his third ranking event since emerging from retirement.
Van Barneveld’s first PDC televised triumph saw him lift the 2006 UK Open at the Bolton Whites Hotel, and fittingly, he marked the latest chapter of his glittering career by prevailing at the same venue.
The 54-year-old had kicked off his campaign with a 6-3 success against Poland’s Krzysztof Kciuk, before recording a first career victory over 2018 world champion Rob Cross in a dramatic decider in round two.
Barney came through another last-leg tussle to defeat his old adversary Mervyn King to reach the last 16, where he posted a superb 105.7 average to dispatch Darius Labanauskas 6-1 – avenging his 2019 World Championship defeat against the Lithuanian.
Van Barneveld fired in a majestic 170 checkout en route to a 6-2 win over Alan Soutar – voted PDC newcomer of the year last month – before recording another ton-plus average to account for Ian White in the semi-finals.
Cullen – who has made a blistering start to the 2022 season – established an early 3-1 buffer in last year’s showpiece, only for Van Barneveld to level at five apiece, courtesy of a sublime 144 checkout.
The topsy-turvy nature of the final continued, but a clinical two-dart 80 finish from RvB moved him to the brink of victory, which he duly sealed via double three in a dramatic 14th leg, after ‘The Rockstar’ squandered seven darts at double to force a decider.
Van Barneveld’s first Pro Tour triumph since October 2013 ended his run of eight consecutive defeats in individual finals, providing the platform for his return to the televised stage at the Players Championship Finals and World Championship in the latter stages of 2021.
The Den Haag veteran also qualified for last year’s Grand Slam of Darts, and while he produced some impressive performances on the big stage in 2021, he will be hoping to feature more prominently in the sport’s premier events in 2022.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC