Tuesday 3 December 2019

Worlds 1/16 - van Gerwen, Klaasen, Burness, Evans, McGeeney, Campbell

Has this been a decent year for van Gerwen? Just about, I think. Players in the conversation for world number one deal in world titles, and Michael's previously stated that it's all about the world crown - which he was able to reclaim, without ever really being threatened at any point. Maybe if Smith had brought his best game in the final, but we'll never know. Outside of that, he cleaned up more or less everything that isn't ranked, however a haul of two of six ranking majors is probably a bit below par for someone of van Gerwen's quality, and aside from the Grand Slam semi final, where he finally lost his aura of invincibility against an on-fire Gerwyn Price, none of the defeats were really unavoidable - Mervyn King in the UK Open and Ross Smith in the European Championship are games he really should be winning, and while Glen Durrant had an inspired Matchplay, van Gerwen would still be hugely favoured over what's a decent length match. In lower level events, van Gerwen started out incredibly, claiming four of the first five European Tours as well as two early Players Championship events, but from there a combination of a cutback in schedule and some odd results saw him claim nothing more - losing to the likes of Robert Thornton, Keegan Brown (twice), Ian White in the Netherlands to end a ridiculous winning run in the European Tour there and Alan Norris. While he's still the best player in the world, the gap between van Gerwen and the field is nowhere near as big as previous years, and while the favourite tag is correct, at the price he's at, it seems prohibitive.

Is it really fourteen seasons since Jelle Klaasen claimed the BDO world title? That's a long time in darts. Since then Jelle's had his ups and downs, and is sliding down the rankings, dropping out of the seeds from last year and being fairly low down the list of qualifiers from the Pro Tour rankings. Klaasen might have finished better if he didn't have a dismal record of European Tour qualification, only making it through once out of thirteen events, and only getting to the final round of qualifiers on three further occasions. You would expect someone of Klaasen's calibre to get through more than that. As such, he's only here through the Players Championship, where he's done somewhat better, with a best run to the quarters, albeit with a fairly easy draw, and a further four board wins. His scoring wasn't too bad, and he's probably been a bit unlucky to not get better results, but it was enough to get to the Players Championship finals, going down in a turgid affair against Max Hopp, and in his only other appearance in a major, he lost heavily to Madars Razma in his first game at the UK Open. Getting through at least the first round here is a must leading into a 2020 campaign where he may be fighting to save his tour card.

Klaasen's opponent will be Kevin Burness, who's making a return here following a debut twelve months ago, where he was able to take out a disappointing Paul Nicholson, before grabbing a set against Gary Anderson but generally being outclassed. Burness is going to need to return to Q-School after this event, not being able to build on that second round performance throughout 2019, but he's got a chance to at least get some expenses in the bank before a possible return to the circuit. He timed his best performance of the year to get here through the PDPA qualifier, winning against Niels Zonneveld, Reece Robinson, Mario Robbe, Robert Thornton and finally Bradley Brooks, so if he's timing his form he's at least doing so at the right time of the year. Despite a horrific Pro Tour run, where he only made one board final and lost in the first round on 25 of 30 occasions, he was able to record a better European Tour than his first round opponent - while like Klaasen it was just one appearance, he was able to score a stunning upset of Glen Durrant despite averaging more than ten points less than the Lakeside champion, before averaging below 75 in a 6-1 drubbing by Joe Cullen. With the UK Open being revamped, Burness did appear in at least one major like every other tour card holder, but lost his opening game to Scott Taylor.

Evans is one of a bunch of younger players looking to punch his way into the top 32, and has just been able to do so - albeit only just, which gives an awkward round three matchup, but he's here now, and has had probably his best year on tour to date. The highlight was a quarter final run in the European Championship, edging out Glen Durrant and then MvG-conqueror Ross Smith, before falling to eventual winner Rob Cross, but he'd done enough on tour to qualify for all majors except the Grand Slam. He's not managed to do much more in the other majors except getting the minimum money onto his ranking, van den Bergh, Gurney, Dobey and Wade taking him out, with sole opening round wins at Minehead against Jose Perales and Steve Beaton, but he's getting there. A final run in the European Tour early on helped a lot, taking out Thornton, Suljovic, King, Darren Webster and Brown before losing a close one against Daryl Gurney, and he made another final on the floor a month earlier, beating Gurney and Ratajski amongst others. The runs did enough to his ranking to get into the seedings for many of the European Tours, and he's had a good record of getting onto the final day, which is what he needs to do to maintain his top 32 ranking and stay in the Pro Tour qualifier spots for major tournaments.

If it wasn't for three other players having spectacular debut seasons, the former BDO number one would be talked about as being a possible best new tour card holder - as is, Mark McGeeney's done enough to make Ally Pally at his first attempt, his fifth world championship appearance all in all. The main disappointment in his opening year has been a relative failure to make more stage events - getting into majors other than the ones he did do is a tricky ask, but only getting to two European Tour events is probably below par - once he had a solid run, taking out Payne and Cullen, before losing a tight match to Jamie Hughes, but would lose to Bradley Brooks first round in his other appearance. As such, it's all been about the Pro Tour - a best run to the semi finals early in the year was impressive, beating Henderson, Clayton, Dobey and Meulenkamp on the way, and another six board wins is showing some of the consistent floor form that saw him pick up a plethora of titles in the BDO. It was enough to get him into the Players Championship Finals, and put up a good fight against a tough opening round opponent in Gabriel Clemens, while in the UK Open, he took out Dave Pallett before losing out to Madars Razma. Whether he can translate the floor form into a stage win is the key question - if he can win his opening game, he certainly has the experience and quality to give Evans a true challenge.

Our first real international qualifier is Matt Campbell, who's made it here through being the highest ranked Canadian on the developing North American CDC circuit, ending second overall behind Darin Young and a good distance ahead of nearest challenger, last year's participant Jim Long. He would be able to get two victories on that tour, over Young in the first and fellow Canadian Kiley Edmunds in the second, as well as making another couple of finals over their ten-event series. The averages he was able to put up in those events looked impressive enough, scoring over ninety in three of the finals - while a tour long average of 86 is competent play. We haven't yet seen Campbell on anything like a stage of this size, Campbell being unable to qualify for Vegas having come within a leg of an automatic spot in the first qualifier, so how he adapts is a big question - he did play this year's World Masters on account of winning the Syracuse Open, and got one win before running into seeded player Simon Stainton. He probably has enough of a game if he can settle quickly to cause McGeeney some problems, but should start as the underdog to get an actual victory.

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