Eight players have an eye on the Players Championship Finals crown; only one has the Eye of the Tiger.
I know what you’re thinking. How do you continue to care about a tournament when John Henderson isn’t in it any more? It’s tough, but there’s plenty of intrigue left in the Players Championship Finals 2019. We must solider on. You’d imagine that it’s what the big man would want.
Bullet gunning for hotshot Price
Stephen Bunting has hit a rich vein of form in Minehead. On Saturday, across two games and 21 legs, the former BDO world champion averaged in the vicinity of 106. Nobody got close to that. Not even opponent Gerwyn Price, who is in the hottest of streaks himself. The Welshman knows his best hasn’t been reached yet. The B-game was enough to down a misfiring Mensur Suljovic. Yet, with Bunting feeling in fine fettle, Price may have to bring something out of the top drawer.
For Bunting, too, some focus is required. There’s a serious chance to win a first PDC major. To do it, he’ll need to overcome the most in-form player in darts, someone who is scoring heavily and punishing any mistakes his opponents make. The Bullet knows something about ruthlessness himself; let’s not forget, it was he who sent Price spiralling out of the World Matchplay.
Barney at it again
Raymond van Barneveld might be having the most lucrative practice session of all time. The Dutchman insists he’s cool, he’s chill, he’s not bothered by the Players Championship Finals. He wishes he could be in the studio recording another song (please, God, never again) but he’s mucking about in Minehead instead. Barney’s Ally Pally warm-up has featured wins over Nathan Aspinall, Joe Cullen and Glen Durrant, three top class players who have barely laid a glove on him. Incredibly, his last effort in this competition has matched his best ever.
His bid for a first ever Players Championship semi-final is dependent on victory over Chris Dobey. It seemed like it was going to be John Henderson, who was 5-2 up and comfortable against the Bedlington star. For Dobey to win eight successive legs to wrest success from the Scot is something else. The World Grand Prix semi-finalist has developed massively in 2019; could a title be in the offing? He definitely fits the Aspinall mould. Dobey won’t be thinking of the title yet. Like Stephen Bunting, getting past the quarter-finals and improving on his 2018 showing would be a start.
Nine-dart Mike faces Merv test
Saturday was just your standard day in the office for Michael van Gerwen. A nine-darter, a coolly-taken 72 checkout in a decider, an average nearing 106 to dismiss James Wade. All in all, the Dutchman doesn’t look as invincible as he did at the Grand Slam (before Gerwyn Price shattered that illusion). He does look confident, though. And when he is, when it comes to gifting opponents chances he’s as generous as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Though when the clock strikes three, Mighty Mike will be visited by the ghost of majors past.
Mervyn King is a bona fide giant-killer. Not in the sense that he’s a minnow, more that he takes out big names for sport. Rob Cross bowed before the King in Minehead, just like James Wade in Dublin, and Gary Anderson in Blackpool. He also knocked a certain Michael van Gerwen out of the UK Open. Yet, to be fair to the world number one, revenge was gained at the Grand Prix. King averaged 105 in his triumph over Cross, and – should he hold off some troublesome sciatica – he will feel another big scalp can be claimed.
White takes aim at ending hoodoo
It’s well-known in long-distance athletics that runners will hit ‘the wall’ at some point. And I don’t mean Martin Schindler. Every athlete knows there or thereabouts where the troubles creep in. For Ian White, it’s the quarter-finals. For examples, see: World Championship 2014, World Matchplay 2015, World Grand Prix 2015 & 2019, UK Open 2014 & 2017, Players Championship Finals 2013 & 2015, World Series of Darts Finals 2019. Examples of overcoming the big TV last eight bugaboo are…erm…anyway, White is an excellent player. That run surely must end, and it could be here.
William O’Connor will be aware of the Diamond’s rocky record. He won’t make assumptions, but the Irishman could be excused for letting some confidence creep in. He’s been very much the dark horse of proceedings. O’Connor hasn’t set the world alight, and has played all of his games on Stage Two. But Steve West, Krzysztof Ratajski and Gabriel Clemens, three highly accomplished players, lie in his wake. The Magpie now has a glimpse of a shiny trophy, and is a few more solid performances away from maybe grabbing it. It’d be massive not just for him, but for Irish darts.
Players Championship 2019 schedule
13:00 Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting
14:00 Raymond van Barneveld v Chris Dobey
15:00 Michael van Gerwen v Mervyn King
16:00 Ian White v William O’Connor
Author: Ed McCosh