Monday 11 December 2023

Clayton, Lennon, Bates

It's been an OK season for Jonny Clayton, coming off the back of a worlds twelve months ago where he was able to make a career best of a quarter final, a stage of the event he will probably fancy his chances of returning to this season. His best darts, however, probably came in the early part of the season. His level of scoring was up amongst the top few in the world, as he had a very strong start to the Pro Tour season with two semi finals and a further three board wins in the first ten events, a pair of strong wins in the UK Open over Ross Smith and Jose de Sousa, only coming unstuck against Martin Schindler, and a good first few European Tour events, getting to the final session in two of the first four events, before binking the fifth in Austria, eliminating Jelle Klaasen, Damon Heta, Joe Cullen, Daryl Gurney and Josh Rock on the way to the title. The run up to the Matchplay would see solid form continue - he won the unranked World Cup with Gerwyn Price which is always a nice one to get, would add another couple of Euro Tour quarter finals in back to back weekends, again deny Rock a title by claiming Players Championship 13, and hit another couple of quarter finals right before the Matchplay cutoff. At Blackpool, Clayton would have his best ranking major run of the season, making it all the way to the final, knocking out Gabriel Clemens, Dimitri van den Bergh, Ryan Searle and Luke Humphries, before Nathan Aspinall pulled away in the final after the second break, sadly for Clayton, Nathan didn't really need to hit top gear in order to do so. That would start a bit of a downtick in form - Clayton did make another floor semi final and quarter final in the remainder of the season, but did have a few questionable early exits, he wouldn't get much of anything done in the last few events of the European Tour either, and then dropped to early exits in the next couple of majors, losing in the Grand Prix first round to Ross Smith, then in Dortmund he'd suffer a bit of a surprise reverse to Jose de Sousa, again in the opening round. That World Cup win saw Clayton qualify for the Grand Slam, and he was one of the seeds in pool one, but he was unable to advance out of a group containing Josh Rock and Chris Dobey, formidable opponents for sure but not ones that Jonny would necessarily be an underdog against, then to round off the season at Minehead, he'd get an expected win against Stephen Burton, but would then lose in round two to Niels Zonneveld to conclude a disappointing second half of 2023. If the form trajectory was reversed, we could easily be talking about Clayton as a potential semi finalist - as it is, he's still a real threat, but the draw is such that I could see him losing at any stage and it wouldn't be a surprise to me.

Steve Lennon returns after a year's absence, where he was probably the strongest player not to make the world championship, but he has recovered levels of results somewhat, even if his level of play hasn't altered that much. Steve finished safely in the middle ranges of the Pro Tour qualification spots, mainly through consistent accumulation on the Pro Tour, with occasional dips into Europe to augment his Pro Tour ranking and get safely back to Ally Pally. On the Pro Tour, Steve would average within the top fifty of all players, but to my surprise he didn't make a single quarter final. It was pure consistency that got him the bulk of his results, reaching ten board finals and turning a few of those into last sixteen appearances, just not quite being able to punch through deep into the event, which is perfectly possible for someone scoring as well as he has been doing. Lennon would add a couple of early European trips to his tally - losing heavily to Brendan Dolan in Leverkusen even though the averages were basically the same, then in Riesa he would beat Andy Boulton and average about the same as Rob Cross but come out on the wrong side of the result. Steve next returned after the Matchplay in Jena, getting a tough draw in Daryl Gurney but not playing great, then conclude his season in Hildesheim with a win over a domestic qualifier but getting drawn against Michael van Gerwen in round two which went as you might expect. Lennon's TV appearances were somewhat limited, being drawn against Martijn Kleermaker in his first match of the UK Open and coming up short in a 6-4 defeat, but he was able to qualify for the Grand Slam through the tour card holder qualifier - he didn't get any wins in a really strong group featuring Luke Humphries, Gary Anderson and Dirk van Duijvenbode, but just making the field was important in context, and he would nick a potential key victory against Andrew Gilding at Minehead last month. James Wade would be too good in round two, but those late performances have put Lennon within one win potentially of saving his tour card. Two would make things absolutely sure, with just one it would be back to a case of waiting for other results, but he'll know that in advance with the key players starting ahead of him in the running order. His scoring is better than his results, and his consistency score further adds to that opinion, he just needs a bit of luck. Maybe he gets it in this event?

Owen Bates is probably best known to most casual darts fans as that guy with the silly nickname that the PDC didn't like, but he's a bit more than that, he's a decent player who's qualified through a second place finish on the Challenge Tour, only finishing behind the prolific Berry van Peer, and was also a top twenty finisher on the Development Tour, a field which at the top end is stronger than the Challenge Tour if anything. That second place finish booked him his spot here as well as a tour card for the next two years, so let's see what the Master's done this year. The Challenge Tour was his main arena of attack, getting to five finals, although he only converted one of those into a win, but given he lost those finals to Cam Crabtree, Thibault Tricole, Andy Boulton and James Hurrell, he's not exactly been losing to bad or unknown players, or scoring badly either, finishing fourth on the averages table for the Challenge Tour. Perhaps critically, the first two of those finals were in the first weekend of the year, which, coupled with a last 16 and last 32 run before he went back to back, would see him high up the Challenge Tour ranking to start the season - putting him in a spot to get Pro Tour call ups. Owen took full advantage of this, playing in all but the first three events, which will have gained him a ton of vital experience before he starts on the tour proper in 2024. He did get some occasional good results, getting a couple of board wins, but primarily just getting used to a higher standard to be fair. Owen was able to get wins over Andrew Gilding more than once, Dimitri van den Bergh, Jim Williams and James Wade over the course of the season, which gives an indication of the level of player he is able to beat over a short course format. As stated, Owen is young enough still to play the Development Tour - on that tour, he didn't reach any finals, but was able to get quite deep quite often, reaching two semis (losing to Luke Littler and Bradly Roes) and three quarters (Littler again, twice, and Gian van Veen), results which were more than enough to get him into the world youth - coming out of a group that looked pretty comfortable on paper, Bates would defeat Jordan Thorpe and Moreno Blom to reach the quarter finals, but would lose at that stage to the extremely dangerous Wessel Nijman. Bates has also appeared in the Modus events relatively often this year as well, winning one of the weeks by beating Leonard Gates in the final, and was perhaps a tad unlucky not to get to the final of the series end event, although there he'd have to have come through Littler yet again. Certainly someone who's improved a lot over the past year, I'm not sure he's quite at Lennon's level yet (although he's not a million miles away), but he does have a habit of winning, which might be key in an intriguing first round game.

No comments:

Post a Comment