Friday 1 December 2023

Price, Scutt, Kciuk

It's been a very solid season for Price statistically - for a large part of the year, particularly the first half, he was probably the best player in the world full stop. His numbers have cooled somewhat in the second half of the season, but he is still very much in the conversation when it comes to who's most likely to win this event. The disappointing thing I guess for Price this season will have been the failure to add to his haul of major titles - he did come close in the Premier League, but that's unranked so who cares, but the only other final he made was in the Grand Prix, where he lost out to Luke Humphries. Could more challenges have been made? The UK Open might have been a missed opportunity given it was the time of the year when he was playing best, but he ran into Jeffrey de Zwaan playing like he was able to at his peak, can't do too much about that. Losing an overtime affair in the second round of the Matchplay to Joe Cullen wasn't ideal, losing in the quarters of the European Championship to Danny Noppert was maybe avoidable, we can let him off in the Slam losing to Anderson given how Gary has been playing, and especially in that match, but the worst one was at Minehead where he looked fairly out of sorts with a poor display against Kim Huybrechts. So it seems to be a half and half tale - either he's running into inspired opponents, or he's running into players who are certainly not bad, but not quite at his level, and I think he'd have liked to turn at least one of the Cullen/Noppert games into a victory. Away from TV, Price claimed a brace of European Tour titles with victories over Dirk van Duijvenbode and Michael van Gerwen in back to back weekends in Germany, which gave him the money in the bank to give much of that tour a miss, and he was also moderately prolific at the Pro Tour level - winning two in one weekend in August over hot prospects Josh Rock and Gian van Veen, then another couple at the back end of the season over surprise finalist Daniel Klose and Dave Chisnall. While he's probably not the best player in the world right now, he's not far off, and given the relatively comfortable section of the draw he finds himself in, he could end up being in much better condition than anyone when it gets to the nosebleed section of the event, something he's usually good at anyway, and that could easily be the extra couple of percent he might need in order to become a multiple time champion.

Connor Scutt comes into this event at the end of a two year tour card run which hasn't been bad, but he's going to need to get past his seed in order to stand a chance of keeping the card beyond this tournament, which given the draw is going to be a tough one. It's his debut on this stage, but Scutt has played in a world championship before, using the PDC's waiver to play the 2022 WDF championship after it was delayed, but there he lost out to Canadian Shawn Burt in a fairly poor match. On the PDC circuit he made a pretty quick impact with a very early semi final Pro Tour run, but couldn't really back that up at all in 2022, but 2023 has been an improvement which sees him get into this event. Connor finished safely half way up the Pro Tour rankings, which has more or less come exclusively from floor play, having made just the two European Tour events, losing in the first round to Brendan Dolan in Trier, then Jules van Dongen in Jena. The floor play was a mix of consistency, making it through the opening game well over half the time, with some big runs - matching his previous best of a semi final in June, albeit aided by a moderately soft draw following a first round win over Ross Smith, then going one further in event 27, defeating a much tougher lineup including Smith again, Gary Anderson and Gian van Veen, before missing out on what might be the best chance he ever has to win a Pro Tour event, losing 8-5 in the final to Radek Szaganski. A couple of board wins here and there to add to that was more than enough to qualify for here, but it also got him into the Players Championship Finals, where he had a seed in the middle of the pack, but fell to Gabriel Clemens in the opening round. The only other TV event he could have played was the UK Open - Scutt had a good enough ranking to get a bye into round two, there he comfortably beat Jerry Hendriks, but in round three he would lose narrowly to Steve Beaton. Scutt appears to be one of those players with a good level of base game with the ability to hit higher levels when needed, but doesn't do the latter often enough to really push up into the top 64 level, and could get into a cycle of not retaining a card but being good enough to get it straight back again, albeit with a clean slate as opposed to a decent 2023 to build on. He's still young though, not even hitting 30 for a couple of years, so there's still plenty of time to build and improve.

Krzysztof Kciuk was another player to come through the 2022 Q-School, but hasn't done quite as much as Scutt has with his card, currently ranked somewhere in the 80's and needing a miracle run (an absolute minimum of a last 16) to retain his card. Unlike Scutt, this is not the Pole's first PDC worlds, having come through a regional qualifier way back in 2010, however this was back in the day where there were just the eight preliminary games run as short format leg play, and a quick 4-1 loss to Haruki Muramatsu with both players averaging in the 70's isn't really the sort of experience he would have liked. Kciuk is probably most well known for being one half of the Polish team at the World Cup (alongside Ratajski) for three of the last four years, a team which put up a record average this season in the group stages. On the floor, it's been a pretty barren run - limited success on the Pro Tour saw him get through the opening game a decent amount of the time, but not do too much after that with eight second round exits, and just the two board wins. One of these seemed fortunate in that he got easy draws in rounds two and three after a decent win over Daryl Gurney in the opener, but the other wasn't bad, actually reaching a quarter final beating Ross Smith, Aspinall, Gurney again then Schindler before falling to Dave Chisnall, Kciuk averaging 93 or higher in every game giving a glimpse of what he's capable of doing. Kciuk wouldn't actually qualify for any of the European Tour events, which is rather surprising, leaving just the UK Open as another source of prize money. Like Scutt, he would be seeded into round two, but draw compatriot Radek Szaganski and lose out 6-3. Therefore, Kciuk needed to hit on a wild card to qualify, and was able to do so in the eastern European qualifier, moving through to the semi finals relatively comfortably, defeating young Czech prospect Roman Benecky 6-1 in the semi final, before facing fellow Pole Sebastian Bialecki in the final. Bialecki would make a fast start with two five visit kills to go up 2-0, but Kciuk would win the next five legs without reply, then with Bialecki sitting on 85 to force a decider, Kciuk takes out 141 to claim his world championship spot. Krzysztof will make this competitive, but Scutt does seem a level above at this point in time.

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