Sunday 11 December 2022

(6) Cross, (7) Williams, (PDPA) Joyce

Rob Cross - FRH #6, 859-687 (55.56%), 93.61 scoring (#11), 4.02 consistency
Scott Williams - FRH #50, 440-370 (54.32%), 90.30 scoring (#37), 3.01 consistency
Ryan Joyce - FRH #45, 329-316 (51.01%), 91.16 scoring (#30), 3.72 consistency

What a fantastic year it has been for Scott Williams, where after the disappointment of not picking up a card through Q-School, finishing only on a couple of points in the second stage, has secured a card through two methods - he clearly won the Challenge Tour, finishing more than three and a half grand ahead of his nearest opponent and picking up four titles along the way, winning over second place finisher Robert Owen, Lee Evans, Scott Marsh and WDF world finalist Thibault Tricole. More importantly though, those first two wins were in the first two events, which would basically give him the first invite onto every Pro Tour for the rest of the season (the third win was in the opening event of the second weekend for extra insurance), and he certainly took advantage of that. Winning his board four times out of the first seven events (taking the last one to a quarter final) with notable victories over van den Bergh and Searle amongst others showed everyone that Williams was a serious player, but what happened in June was even more remarkable, where he managed to win one of them, a run over Blades, Baggish, Clayton, Henderson, Cross, Dobey and Aspinall giving him the biggest payday of his career. He wouldn't add too much to that on the Pro Tour afterwards, not losing too many times but not really pushing on to too many board finals either, but he'd accumulated enough to start to get seeded for the Pro Tour events, and easily qualify for Minehead where he picked up useful wins over Alan Soutar and Dave Chisnall, before falling to Joe Cullen. The whole point of that long description of his Pro Tour outings is that barring really bizarre events, he's already in the world's top 64 and will get a card that way anyway. Additional stage experience has been gained through getting the Grand Slam spot from the Challenge Tour, making a great account of himself in probably the hardest group, but not getting out of it despite a 107 average in a defeat of Ryan Searle, and also playing a couple of Euro Tours as an associate qualifier, making it past the seed to the Sunday on both occasions. First time in Leverkusen, he eliminated Adam Gawlas and Peter Wright before running into Josh Rock, then later in Trier he defeated Radek Szaganski and Jonny Clayton before Aspinall was too strong. The scoring is legitimate and he should fancy his chances in the opening round.

Ryan Joyce was a bit unlucky not to qualify for this through the Pro Tour it's fair to say, being the last man out by £250, but he corrected things at the PDPA qualifier, dodging a bullet against Rusty Jake Rodriguez but then looking very comfortable afterwards to book a fifth straight appearance, although he's not gone close to replicating the quarter final run he made on debut. Looking at the numbers he's put up, they're not bad at all and he's actually outperforming Williams by enough that I'd make him about a 60/40 favourite to get through the match, so how has he not qualified by right? The answer is in Europe - his qualification has gone horribly wrong this year, only making two events, the first of which he lost to Gawlas in the first round (ironically the player who finished one spot ahead of him on the Pro Tour ranks), while the second was a bit better, defeating Dyson Parody and Danny Noppert in Gibraltar, before going down 6-4 to Rob Cross in a good game with both players solidly into the 100 averages. Everything else has been fine - he won his opening UK Open match easily against de Decker then hit Schindler, only falling by the odd break. Pro Tour has been solid as well, first round defeats were in single digits, so just being consistent, then taking things further to seven board finals, two of which were won - one early over Peter Wright before a defeat to Ratajski, then a semi final run in May, notably knocking out Bunting and Heta before a one-sided defeat to Callan Rydz. These scores were enough to get him to Minehead, where he showed just what he's capable of doing, knocking out the number 8 seed Gerwyn Price and then Jermaine Wattimena, before possibly tiring a little and seeing Clayton win comfortably in the last sixteen over a longer distance. His card is completely safe, and his numbers are fine, so we'll see if he can set a platform for a more comfortable 2023.

Rob Cross remains in the top six in the world, is right up there statistically, yet the former world champion remains underrated by quite a large number of fans and pundits. Why this is the case, I have no idea, but it seems to be the case with the PDC head guys, who left him out of the Premier League despite a 2021 major victory. Maybe that spurred him on a bit? If it did, it didn't hugely show in major events right up until Minehead just this past month where he made the final with a ridiculously tough run of opponents - Kevin Doets, Gary Anderson, Martin Schindler, Dirk van Duijvenbode and Jonny Clayton were all defeated before Cross averaged a ton but van Gerwen was more opportunistic and took the title. That said, other majors were disappointing with Cross losing more games than he won. Opening defeats to Clemens in the UK Open, Gurney in Leicester and Wade in Dortmund seemed avoidable, he only just defeated Dobey in overtime at Blackpool before going out to Jose de Sousa, and while he did get out of his Grand Slam group (needing a last leg winner against Schindler to do so), he went down by the odd break in eighteen legs to Michael Smith in the first knockout stage. Still, he is continuing to get the job done on the lower stages - that Grand Slam qualification was as number 16 out of 16 auto berths, getting there with the best Players Championship record of anyone not otherwise qualified. Cross got two titles towards the back end of the season over Luke Humphries and Peter Wright, and he is also continuing to be very dangerous on the European Tour. While he's still yet to win one, it's not for lack of trying, making three more finals this year, losing 8-5 to van Gerwen, then twice to Humphries, once by the same scoreline and next in a deciding leg. He should be favoured in the second round against either opponent by roughly a two to one margin, maybe slightly more if it was Williams he played rather than Joyce, and with a moderately comfortable draw, maybe he can get through to as far as van Gerwen, repeat that great semi final showing from a few years back, and remind everyone he's still an incredibly good player?

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