Monday 12 December 2022

(21) Bunting, (28) Nentjes, (NACh) Gates

Stephen Bunting - FRH #24, 542-442 (55.08%), 91.85 scoring (#22), 5.23 consistency
Geert Nentjes - FRH #67, 404-397 (50.44%), 89.26 scoring (#54), 3.68 consistency
Leonard Gates - FRH #127, 84-93 (47.76%), 88.99 scoring (#58), 0.73 consistency

Geert Nentjes is here for a third time, back after a two year absence, and he'll look to do better than first round defeats to Nathan Aspinall and Kim Huybrechts (boy, tough draws!), and here he's got a better chance as he's in through the Pro Tour order of merit, rather than through the Development Tour. He has an outside chance to save his card if he can get to the last 32 here, but will be back with a fresh card regardless after a solid Development Tour season, finishing fifth in the rankings claiming two titles at that level. What's he done on the senior stage? I suppose the big one was a good UK Open run, beating Jake Jones, Kenny Neyens and then Florian Hempel before drawing Mensur Suljovic in the round of 32, putting up a good show, but he did enough on the floor to make the Players Championship Finals as well as here, and at Minehead he had a decent enough seed but Chris Dobey proved to be too good on the day. On the floor, Nentjes is averaging solidly, and very rarely goes out in the first round, only doing so on six occasions out of thirty attempts, the sort of form that indicates he should be a top 64 player and stick around on the tour. That said, he's only got the two board wins all season, running into Heta and Price so being unable to take any of them to the quarter final stage. That solidity was needed to get him here, as Europe wasn't particularly kind, with Geert only being able to qualify for two events, getting a first round loss in Prague to van der Voort, and then a second round loss in Jena to Ratajski, having got a surprise 6-0 win over Josh Rock in the opening round. That's the sort of performance that shows what he can do, his scoring is perfectly competent, and his consistency is a bit above average, so maybe he's had a little bit of run bad in terms of results. At 24 he's certainly one with plenty of room to develop, and with a bit of time I think we should see him as a Pro Tour qualifier mainstay.

His first round opponent will be Leonard Gates, who having been a long time soft tip performer at the highest levels, has finally made a steel tip breakthrough in 2023, where he took the North American Championship, beating Jules van Dongen and Dave Cameron with 95 averages, then beating Danny Baggish in the final where it was Baggish who was averaging around that mark with Gates lower, but Leonard made the most of the scoring he was getting to get the 6-3 win and book his spot. It'll be a PDC debut, but not a worlds debut, as he did play in the WDF event last season, where he was promoted into the seeds but suffered a surprise 3-0 reverse at the hands of Steve Hine. Gates has tried to get onto the tour on a couple of occasions, and this year he tried the UK Q-School, this time getting through the first stage and finishing up on three points in stage two for a respectable finish just outside the top quarter, but obviously not enough points to win a card through the points system. So where else has he got the legs in the bank which, looking at the scoring at the top, rates him fairly close to Geert and with a very live (call it 60/40 in favour of the Dutchman) chance? Well, plenty has come from the CDC tour, where he finished third only behind Alex Spellman and Baggish in the average, claiming one title and getting another two runner up spots, while he did also take down a WDF silver rated event back in February in Sacramento, albeit one without any discernable data that I can see. He also got a World Series of Darts finals invite, getting past Devon Petersen then giving James Wade a solid game, but the best read we probably have will be from his Grand Slam invite (in lieu of him timing out at the World Masters last week), he had a couple of disappointing games against Clayton and Wattimena, but pushed Damon Heta to a deciding leg, which is not easy. He's live, but I think Geert has a small edge here.

The winner will face Stephen Bunting, the former Lakeside champion making his ninth appearance here and still hanging around in the world's top 32, but it's been a while since he's been playing the sort of stuff that'll get him back up towards the top 16, and defending semi final money should see him slide somewhat in the official rankings. Where's his game at? It is still easily good enough to qualify for all majors apart from the Grand Slam, where he lost a deciding leg in the final qualifying round to a red hot Alan Soutar, but once there he's basically put up showings that are saying he's not at a top 16 level right now. The only time he's got beyond a last 32 stage was at the Grand Prix, where the nature of the tournament allowed him to get a favourable draw and defeat Brendan Dolan before giving van Gerwen a good test, but aside from that it was out at the last 32 every single time except Minehead, which was a last 64 elimination in the Players Championship Finals. O'Connor, Ratajski, Chisnall and Hughes were the players to beat him, and you wouldn't say any of them ought to be beyond the realms of possibility for someone who's scoring just shy of 92 for the season. Europe was a mixed bag, missing more events than he qualified for, and while he got to a couple of semi finals, he did so without hitting any huge seeds - in Austria he drew the 16th seed and someone else eliminated Wright, and in Trier he was the number 15 seed, and while Searle isn't the deadliest #2 seed we've ever seen, he lost in the first game as well, although in fairness Bunting did get a good win in each of those events against Rob Cross and Damon Heta respectively. Stephen is actually within the top 16 of floor averages per Dart Connect, but has been unable to reach a single semi final this season - hitting five quarters and winning his board on another six occasions, but he's not been able to go really deep into any of them to try to push back towards the Euro Tour seeds (currently 20th on the Pro Tour rankings). Looking at some of the people who've knocked him out of those moderate runs like Krcmar, Justicia, Joyce, Beaton - could he have done more? Maybe, but it's very steady stuff, and this isn't the worst draw by any stretch, so you would expect Stephen to get through around 70% of the time for a possible local derby against Dave Chisnall in round three.

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