Sunday 4 December 2022

(16) Searle, (32) Gawlas, (PDPA) Burnett

Ryan Searle - FRH #16, 561-493 (53.23%), 92.79 scoring (#15), 4.31 consistency
Adam Gawlas - FRH #62, 281-349 (44.60%), 87.41 scoring (#73), 6.63 consistency
Richie Burnett - FRH #101, 219-260 (45.72%), 89.11 scoring (#56), 2.64 consistency

Gawlas will enter the tournament for what is a surprise debut, if only because I assumed he must have made it through some other method in a previous season, but a debut it is, squeaking in as the last of the 32 Pro Tour qualifiers, giving himself a chance of retaining his tour card, but getting a first round win would give him a huge advantage and realistically make him absolutely safe. Creeping in by just £250, most of his work was done on the European Tour, where he played five events this season. He lost in the first round three times as well as getting a one win and done performance in Stuttgart - oddly the win was against Ryan Joyce, if that one goes the other way around he's not in, he'd then lose to potential second round opponent Searle. But it was on home soil where he made the final session. He took out associate qualifier Dennie Olde Kalter and then Damon Heta and Ryan Searle, before finally going down to Vincent van der Voort. Not quite enough to get him to Dortmund, but ten grand wasn't bad, and he did just enough on the floor, mostly just grinding away picking up the win here and there, winning his opening game and losing the second on 11 occasions. Still extremely raw with a decent peak game capable of back to back four visit kills, there is wild inconsistency and he can go missing for entire games at once. Adam got on a little bit of a UK Open run, knocking out George Killington and Jose Justicia before being outclassed by Jamie Hughes, and he also picked up some very useful TV experience by making the Grand Slam for a second time through the Pro Tour qualifier, he wouldn't get a win but he got a brutal draw in fairness, and played well in a fairly close game to Dirk van Duijvenbode. Still Development Tour eligible for a few years, a disappointing season was had there finishing outside the top 20 and barely in the top 16 in averages, only making a couple of semi finals and another couple of quarters. Securing another season on the main tour would be great for his development.

One player who is very much not Development Tour eligible is Richie Burnett, a world champion seven years before Adam was born, and he will make his return for the first time since 2014. On and off the tour a few times, Richie's had a moderately quiet season after winning his card back in 2022, but was putting together some OK averages towards the back end of the season which made a few pundits sit up and take notice, and he would put it all together in the PDPA qualifier, defeating Bradley Brooks, Kevin Burness, Brian Raman with a near 110 average, and then David Evans 7-3 in the final to book his spot back at Ally Pally. The only TV event he played was the UK Open, entering in round one, beating Tony Martinez but then losing to qualifier Ryan Harrington, so any guide on form is purely coming from the Pro Tour. There isn't even European Tour data, as he didn't qualify for any of them. Half the time he was out in the first round, it's a tough school, but that did include an early run of seven straight first round exits, so towards the back end of the year he was a lot better at getting through the first round, and if we look at when that's happened since May, it's been to Heta, Barney, Kleermaker, Whitlock, Cross, Wade and Searle, which isn't the most fortunate run of draws. So maybe he's playing better than his results suggest? Quite possibly, that consistency score might give us a clue (and it is odd if you have ever seen Richie throw, particularly the last dart) that he's been unlucky. Getting things right at the right time is key, and he's reached the board final on three of the last seven Players Championship events - losing two, but perhaps notably beating his first round opponent in the last 32 in the one he did win, and in those seven events, he played sixteen games and only averaged under 90 once. Burnett is certainly live to cause an "upset" here, projections give it as even, but that is taking into account Gawlas' peak game - Richie's is more controlled and consistent, and getting better as the year has gone on. 50/50 in the computer might be more like 60/40 in real life.

The winner will play Ryan Searle, who is still in the top sixteen, is still playing like a top 16 player, yet it feels like he's had a bit of a disappointing season, not really kicking on from being left on a one-darter to win his first major back at Minehead in 2021. I suppose it's the relative lack of progress, and lack of a big TV run that has something to do with it - Searle did fine at the UK Open, reaching the last 16 after tough draws with Adrian Lewis and Dimitri van den Bergh, but then with the draw opening up, he lost to Sebastian Bialecki, with a winnable quarter final against Willie O'Connor to follow. In retrospect, was that a better chance than Searle had at the same venue three months prior? Hard to say. A couple of first round exits (DvD at Blackpool from a 6-4 lead, Razma in Leicester) would follow, he'd only just beat Lukeman at Dortmund before hitting Luke Humphries, his TV final got him into the Grand Slam but couldn't follow up on a win over Josh Rock, losing to Luke Humphries and then Scott Williams despite ton plus averages in both. Then most recently, he played to his seeding in the Players Championship, reaching the last sixteen before losing an instant classic against DvD again. The Euro Tour featured several second round exits, and where he did get through to the Sunday (in fairness, more often than not), he'd only make one quarter final, nicking one against Chizzy having beaten Krzysztof Kciuk, but then lost to Wade, this being in the event where Wade suddenly became ill and withdrew from the next round. Unfortunate timing. He did pick up one Pro Tour win back in April over Aspinall, and would again be denied by van Duijvenbode in a decider to go back to back, averaging 104 in a losing effort, so at least he has some winning experience in 2022. Additionally, one other final was made right at the start of the season, going down to Luke Humphries as Cool Hand got his first senior title. Game still very much there, just maybe a bit unfortunate with timing. He should have far too much for either player in round two, I'm looking at the 75% to 80% range if it was to be Richie that he played.

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