Wednesday 11 December 2019

Worlds 16/16 - Whitlock, Ward, Razma, King, Smith, Teehan

A reminder before I conclude the previews that you have less than 48 hours to enter our fantasy competition - link is here if you can't scroll down a few posts, it takes five minutes and you could win stuff, what better way to have an interest in an opening round game that you otherwise wouldn't care about?

Feels like it's the beginning of the end for Simon, and that his best days are long, long behind him - you simply can't be a serious top sixteen player if you're not able to make a single Pro Tour quarter final all year, and his scoring over the course of the year, at below 90, is extremely pedestrian, rating lower than players such as Martin Schindler and Dirk van Duijvenbode - neither of which are here. He's not defending a huge amount in this tournament so I guess he's about for at least another season, but are there any signs that are pointing in the right direction? I guess there's some, Simon still managed to make a European Tour final this year, beating Reyes, Ross Smith, Cullen and Hopp, and was able to make the final session on another couple of occasions, although these were a few months ago now and seemed to be in events that some players gave a wide berth to. He's only actually gone out in the first round on TV once, which was when he drew Michael Smith in Dublin - he made it through Dekker and Clemens at the UK Open, he beat John Henderson at Blackpool, beat Adrian Lewis in Göttingen and then de Zwaan in a weird game last month, but none of those are truly the elite of the elite. He seemed almost subconsciously to be picking his game up ever so slightly later in the season, to the point where I actually backed him to win a game for the first time in months, but it's not a huge deal - maybe he needs to trim his schedule down a bit, stop messing around with Allen key points and bizarre checkout routes and simplify things a little to extend his career, first thing would be to play to his seeding here, which is possible if he plays to the best of what he's able to do right now.

Someone at the opposite end of his career is Harry Ward, the youngster who claimed his tour card outright on day 1 of Q-School after several years being on people's radar on the secondary circuits (which he still plays, at least the Dev Tour). What could he do on the main tour this season? I think people were a bit surprised to see him race straight to a quarter final in his first event of the season, although the highest ranked player he beat was, oddly, Simon Whitlock, but hey, lots of people make quarter final runs on the Pro Tour. What did surprise a lot of people is when he managed to win one. I don't think anybody saw that coming, but in Barnsley back in May that's exactly what he was able to do, getting a second round win against his opening opponent here, then winning three of his last four matches in deciding legs - Michael Smith, Aspinall, de Sousa (the only game that didn't go the distance) and then Max Hopp in the final. It's a great achievement, which he was able to sandwich with another couple of quarter finals before the summer break to guarantee his place here. As a new tour card holder, it was not enough to get close to the majors, that's always tricky unless you do something more incredible than just one win, maybe if he'd got to more European Tour events (only the two, losing heavily to Noppert in the first and then beating Reece Robinson before Suljovic won every leg in the second) he might have had half a chance, but still, it's all points on the board and with a worlds berth he gives himself a very good chance of retaining his card after 2020. Just the two majors, mincashes in both, Jan Dekker and Darius Labanauskas doing for him, but if you offered him this year twelve months ago, he'd take it.

It's a PDC worlds debut for the Latvian Madars Razma, who has previously played Lakeside on multiple occasions and gained a reputation along with nearby neighbour Labanauskas of being a very dangerous opponent, and that's more or less what he's done - he has a ridiculously high percentage of legs won in four visits compared to his scoring level, if he strings good darts together then anyone's in trouble, he just doesn't do it often enough. Razma picked up form too late in the day to retain his card in 2018, but won it straight back comfortably enough and is still trying to get used to the Pro Tour, making it here through the SDC rankings, winning four events and making another three on that circuit to comfortably qualify. On the main tour it's been a struggle for consistency - the UK Open was the undoubted highlight, Razma beating fellow SDC competitor Dennis Nilsson, Mark McGeeney, George Killington and Jelle Klaasen to reach the last 32, where eventual winner Nathan Aspinall would easily defeat him. Otherwise it's been a grind - only four board finals, and he only won one of them, grabbing the scalp of Joe Cullen in that one. He made four European Tour events, which isn't too bad I guess, but went 0-4, losing to Matthew "you could have denied the whole Glen Durrant story" Dennant, Keegan Brown, Chris Dobey and Justin Pipe. He wasn't able to put enough together on the Pro Tour to make the Players Championship Finals, and it already looks as if it may be a struggle to retain his card again, so if he can get through the opening game and get to one of the weaker seeds, he can help himself out enormously.

The final seed we'll look at is Mervyn King, and it's been a very nice year for the veteran who's closing in on twenty-five world championship appearances, playing at more than a good enough level to retain a top 32 spot and still showing a peak game that can challenge the best. He's even throwing at double top now and again when it makes sense to do so, that's how confident he is at the moment. His floor form wasn't the best, just the three board wins on the Pro Tour, all early in the year - although he did take one to the semi final stage when he got a bit of the luck of the draw. He only managed to make it through to the final day on the European Tour three times, this is despite still being among the seeds for the most part, so why has it been a good year? The majors. Three quarter finals is a haul that a lot of players in the top 16 would be happy with, but let's have a look at who he played. UK Open? Last 32 is deceiving as he got the bastard draw to end all bastard draws - van Gerwen and then Cross. Obviously that means he beat the former. Matchplay? He beat Aspinall and Gary Anderson. Grand Prix? He beat Dimitri and Wade. Players Championship Finals? He beat Pipe, Chisnall and Cross. The only real blot was a first round loss to Cullen in Göttingen, but I think Mervyn would take what he's been given on TV in all honesty. It's a good draw, he should make it through to the last sixteen, and if there's one player that can ignore all the Gerwyn Price theatrics, it's King.

It's a bit of a tricky draw though, as Ross Smith is a potential opponent for King in the last 64. Smith's in through the Pro Tour for a return, and it's just been consistent performances throughout the year, rather than huge standout moments on the floor. He was, of course, helped by a good record in Europe, making more than half the events to qualify for the major at the end of the series, where he did get his huge standout moment of his career, a 114 out in the deciding leg against Michael van Gerwen to get to the last 16 of the European Championship. That European Tour record saw him beat a couple of seeds in Whitlock and Wright, but on the Pro Tour, it was just the one quarter final late in the season, where he did beat Ratajski and Cross. As I say, consistency, nine board finals or better. In the other majors he played, Smith had a great run to the UK Open quarter final, beating Norris, West and Wade in the extended games from the last 64 before hitting Aspinall in the quarters, and he also got more stage experience after winning through the Grand Slam qualifier - he got a tough draw against van Gerwen, Lewis and Jim Williams, and was probably a bit disappointing in only winning the five legs and finishing bottom of the group. Smith isn't too far off doing enough things right to really start climbing up to the top 32 in the world, but a win here in the first round is a minimum ask really.

The last player we'll look at is Ciaran Teehan, who makes his world championship debut after finishing high enough up the Development Tour rankings to claim the second spot, after all the players who had qualified as of right through the Pro Tour had been scrubbed off. On that tour, Teehan put things together late with two finals in the last five events, and the fifty quid he got in the final event of the season was just enough to finish fifth overall by that exact margin, Evetts, Humphries and Meikle not needing the spots to allow him to play at Ally Pally for a first time. Teehan's part of the flood of Irish players, like Barry, Shane McGuirk who he just pipped for this spot and others, but he's not just a youth player by any stretch of the imagination. Teehan won a Challenge Tour event back in September, beating the likes of Andy Jenkins, McGuirk and Berry van Peer, not having any real randoms in anything apart from the opening round, and not being a tour card holder, he's also played plenty of BDO events - he came through to the televised stages of the World Masters, his progress only being halted in the final eight by the impressive Mike Warburton, and in the last couple of months he's made deep runs in Irish-based opens. Smith should have too much for him, but Ciaran won't be a pushover.

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