Sunday 8 December 2019

Worlds 10/16 - Cullen, Wilson, Kurz, Wattimena, Humphries, Petersen

2019 was a big year for Joe Cullen, where the perennial European Tour contender, who had come so close to getting a win on that circuit on so many occasions, finally managed to get the European Tour title that had eluded him for so long. In that event, Cullen beat Jamie Hughes, Willie O'Connor, Glen Durrant, James Wade and then the end boss that is Michael van Gerwen, doing things the hard way and showing what he'd threatened to do for so long. That got him nicely up into the European Tour standings, where in the finals he beat Mervyn King, but the lost to Rob Cross. That would be close to all he'd do in TV events, which is really what he's needing to do to maintain a top 16 position and even look to push up further - in the UK Open, Cullen would draw Gerwyn Price, awkward, but it happens. In the Matchplay and Grand Prix, he'd get Ian White on both occasions - the Grand Prix was somewhat close as it went all three sets, but the Matchplay was one to forget, as Cullen lost ten straight legs to be on the wrong end of a rare Blackpool whitewash. It was a rare year where winning on the European Tour wasn't enough to make the Grand Slam, so it just left Minehead at the end of the year for majors - Cullen got past Kyle Anderson, but Raymond van Barneveld would be too good. The floor wasn't bad for Cullen - one final, beating Price, Cross and Lewis before being comprehensively beaten by Peter Wright, and a further three runs to the quarters or better, while he'd also make two further quarter finals in Europe to add to his ranking money. His overall scoring isn't quite as good as his results, but when he's on form, he's got the game to push deep into any tournament.

It's not been a great year for James Wilson. Defending last 32 money from two years ago (where he lost to Michael van Gerwen without winning a leg), Wilson's had various ailments that have really prevented him making a serious attempt to hold his top 32 position, and was only just able to crawl over the line in the Pro Tour rankings as his scoring for the year dropped below 89, far below where it really needs to be for a top 32 player. What did Wilson manage to do this year? He wasn't close to the majors, only qualifying for the UK Open automatically, where he was destroyed against James Wade, and qualifying for Minehead a second time, where he had a wildly different two games - pulling off a stunning deciding leg upset against Peter Wright, then not winning another leg in the whole tournament as he lost to Chris Dobey in the second round. That second round appearance was from doing just about enough on the Pro Tour - while he had twelve first round exits, and missed the last four events, he was at least able to turn two of his three board wins into more than just the minimum, reaching one semi final in June, where he notably beat Gurney and de Sousa before Ratajski took him apart in the semi, and a quarter final three months later, beating Hopp, Ratajski and Durrant prior to being taken out by Jamie Hughes. His European qualification record was very patchy, but he at least made the final day on two of the three occasions he qualified - first as a promoted seed from nowhere, beating Mario Robbe before losing to Keegan Brown (who'd just opened up the draw by beating MvG), then much later in the season he beat Gavin Carlin and Steve Beaton prior to losing to Mensur Suljovic in his backyard. Hopefully he's over the worst of his problems and he can get back to some of the form he was showing a year or two ago.

Nico Kurz is a bit of a surprise debutant - when the German Superleague finals field was announced, I think most people expected Martin Schindler, as probably the strongest non-Cadby player that wasn't in the field already, to qualify comfortably. However, Kurz, still in his early 20's from the outskirts of Frankfurt, was able to gradually improve through the day, averaging 88 in the quarters against Manfred Bilderl which went all the way, just over 90 against Maik Langendorf, then nearly 95 in eliminating Schindler in the final to book his spot at Ally Pally. Not bad going, those games were all of a decent length (the quarters started at best of 15 and it increased from there) so it's no fluke. Kurz is probably best (only?) known to most viewers from his German Darts Masters run back in July - there, he caused a huge surprise by knocking out Gary Anderson 6-4 in the opening round, and then coming close to eventual winner Peter Wright in the quarter finals, Wright only able to get the sole break he needed over the course of the game. He clearly isn't going to be worried by a big stage if he can do that. It's a bit of a surprise that we didn't see him on the Development Tour at all, but we did see him get into one of the earlier European Tour events, where he took Kim Huybrechts all the way to a deciding leg before losing 6-5, a game which saw Nico miss several match darts. I'd say this would be just a case of gaining more big match experience, but this is winnable - if he can take this one, maybe he can then look to try more of the Development Tour in 2020 and gain a lot more floor experience.

Jermaine's continued to grow in stature and confidence in 2019, to the point where he's the Netherlands number two (at least in the official rankings, I'm sure de Zwaan, Noppert and possibly others might ask politely as to who's actually better) and got into their World Cup team. In a big surprise, Jermaine wasn't able to help MvG to the finals (and the free Grand Slam berth many thought was there for him) as they lost the deciding pairs to Ireland in the semi final, but apart from that big chance, 2019's been good to Jermaine. He's not quite been able to claim a title yet - two runners up spots, one right at the start of the year where he could get wins over Ian White and Peter Wright but go down to MvG, then another later in August, where he beat Clemens, Beaton and Suljovic, but Brendan Dolan would surprisingly prevent him getting the win. A huge string of quarter finals was below that level, and similarly in Europe, he's not been able to go really deep but is getting to the final day with some regularity. In the majors, he made somewhat of a breakthrough in the Grand Prix where he reached the quarters, beating Lewis and Wright but then losing a deciding set to Glen Durrant, he was able to reach the last sixteen at the UK Open, crushing de Zwaan and then edging out Woodhouse before Michael Smith was too strong, while he also won his opener in Göttingen against Jamie Hughes before de Zwaan would take revenge for that UK Open loss. Jamie Hughes and Mensur Suljovic aren't easy draws in the remaining two, maybe he'd have liked to perform better against Mensur at Blackpool, but everything carries on trending in the right direction for Jermaine.

It's been an interesting year for Luke following his quarter final run twelve months ago - going from his well documented anxiety issues at the start of the year that let him to think about giving the game up, to claiming the world youth title over a clearly hugely nervous Adam Gawlas on the Minehead stage. That would have given him a spot here, but he'd made it through the Pro Tour rankings, let's have a look at what he's done. Europe's been decent when he's got there - only three times, but he's won his first game on all three occasions, but couldn't quite get over the line to get to the real big money rounds, losing out in deciding legs twice, once to James Wade and once to Darren Webster. Luke was in the top 64 in the Players Championship rankings easily enough (although, through oddities of seedings, he got van Gerwen in the opening round in the finals with the expected results), Humphries winning his board four times in the second half of the season, with a peak of the quarters in June, beating Wade in the first round but eventually going out to James Wilson when the tournament was wide open to anyone. Humphries only other TV tournament before the world youth was the UK Open - getting a good win over Vincent van der Voort, before losing a very tight game to Dave Chisnall. In his last year as a youth (although what "youth" means has been the subject of much debate), Humphries of course won the big title, but took down three tour events, first over Greg Ritchie in June, then two on the final weekend over Ted Evetts and Geert Nentjes. Luke obviously likes this stage, and is doing the right things at the right time in preparation for this.

After what was a very bad 2018 for Devon Petersen, where his only real good performance was at the worlds, doing just about enough to save his card, Devon's performances are a lot better than they were twelve months ago, but his results are only marginally improved. The easy winner of the African qualifier, Petersen only made two TV singles appearances - in the UK Open he was unfortunate to draw Jamie Hughes first up, and at the Players Championship Finals, Devon put up a good effort against Ian White but wasn't able to reproduce the miracle performance he had at last year's worlds against him. As he got there, Devon had done just about enough (59th in out of 94) on the floor, he had one quarter final where he beat title winners in Harry Ward, Daryl Gurney and Jelle Klaasen before being overwhelmed by a rampant Peter Wright, and a couple more board wins along with a better record than not of winning his opening game, would be just enough. It's a good job there was the African qualifier though, with just two European Tour appearances, both ending in defeat to Mervyn King and Jamie Hughes, he would have been a fair distance off worlds qualification from the Pro Tour. Devon seems to bring his best game on this stage, and against the first round opponent he has, it's possible he may need to.

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