Wednesday 13 December 2023

Rock, Woodhouse, van Peer

This time last year, the Josh Rock hype train was larger than the average Sheffield Wednesday away attendance, the young sensation being backed into one of the five favourites to win the entire thing on the back of a phenomenal rookie PDC season, it didn't quite work out, but it was still a decent debut worlds. 2023? If anyone wanted to bet on under 0.5 titles won, I'm sure most bookmakers would have said name your own price, but that's how it turned out, which seems unbelievable given his numbers still indicate he is a top ten level player in the world. How did what might look like a really disappointing season go down? Well on the floor, it was a case of nearly but not quite on several occasions. Josh would have a pretty steady start to the Players Championship series, going all the way to the final in event 7, only to lose out to Michael van Gerwen, then five events later, after bagging another couple of quarter finals taking him to three for the season, he'd hit another final - only to lose out to Jonny Clayton on this occasion. Five events later he was in the final yet again, but Gerwyn Price would prove to be too strong this time. Then in October he'd reach yet another final, but Gary Anderson would deny Rock a second PDC title. Continually very good, but not quite getting over the line. The European Tour would be kind of a similar situation - he missed out on playing in Kiel, but played the remainder (Pro Tour seedings not quite catching up), and reached the final day on nine occasions. Leverkusen saw Rock lose to Dirk van Duijvenbode in the quarters. Austria saw Rock whitewash van Gerwen in the semi final, but be denied by Clayton in the final for the second time this year. He beat Dave Chisnall and Michael Smith in Belgium, but would lose to van Gerwen in the semi final. In Jena, he'd reach yet another semi final, only to be denied by eventual winner Krzysztof Ratajski. What about TV? In majors, Josh has disappointed quite significantly - losing his opening game in the UK Open to potential first opponent here Luke Woodhouse, seeing the same result in Blackpool to Damon Heta, another first round defeat in the Grand Prix to van Gerwen, then in Dortmund he'd play well but get out timed by Daryl Gurney who wasn't far behind on the averages at all. Josh had his best showing of the year at the Grand Prix, winning a potentially difficult group featuring Clayton, Chris Dobey and another potential opponent here in van Peer, and sweep it, then brush aside Ratajski in the last sixteen - only to lose 16-15 to James Wade despite averaging 101 over a 31 leg match. Finally, Rock went out in the second round of the Players Championship Finals to Gabriel Clemens despite averaging 112 in the game. Josh is still playing fantastic darts, it just hasn't worked out due to probably a two sigma occurrence of running into a combination of tough opponents and people playing out of their skin and not missing chances ever. Maybe a reduced level of expectation helps him a lot here? If it does, then look out.

Luke Woodhouse is one of those players who has been floating between the 33-64 level in the rankings forever, but in 2023 he's started to make some serious progression, finishing extremely high on the Pro Tour rankings and showing major development in both performances and results, which has seen him reach levels we've not previously seen and make a lot of people take notice of what he's done. Luke had a few good wins early in the Pro Tour season, beating the likes of Heta, van Gerwen and Wade, but it wouldn't be until June where he'd make his big floor breakthrough, pushing all the way through to a final - the performance in the final was poor and Damon Heta ran out an easy winner, but I'm guessing Luke was dragged down by a couple of scrappy matches in the immediate past and couldn't up his game at all. It was still a good breakthrough, although at that level he couldn't build on it, although he kept doing his job by ending up in the board final on regular occasions. In Europe, the key result was towards the back of the season in Hungary - there he would push through to a quarter final. He'd appeared in four events previously, losing in the first round twice and being one and done twice, but Budapest would see him get by a domestic qualifier and then Rob Cross and Peter Wright to reach the final session of a Euro Tour event for the first time. Sure, Humphries murdered him, but that happens - the money in the bank and the timing of it got him into the Grand Prix. TV tournaments were pretty nice to Woodhouse - he'd reach round five of the UK Open, eliminating Josh Rock (see above) and then hit back to back 100 averages in annihilating Jelle Klaasen 10-2, only to fall a little bit flat against Andrew Gilding. Luke's best results were not quite enough to make the Matchplay, although it was close, but he did time things well enough to make the Grand Prix - there he would feature in a high quality match against Dave Chisnall and come out on top, and advance to the Luke derby against Humphries, losing 3-0, but the match went to a deciding leg in every single set, so Woodhouse would be able to take some positives out of the event. Luke would suffer a bit of a surprise defeat to Rusty Jake Rodriguez in the Grand Slam qualifier, but that wouldn't put him off as he made the deepest run he's made in a major yet, reaching the quarter finals of the Players Championship Finals. Woodhouse got through Simon Whitlock, Rob Cross and Dave Chisnall to come up against Gabriel Clemens, the German being a little bit too good on the day and coming out a 10-7 winner, but it's yet more positives that can be drawn. Everything seems to be trending in the correct direction, so while potentially playing Rock in round two is a bit of a tricky draw, he has the game to make Josh work for the victory, and 2024 might be the year where we see Woody make a true assault on the top 32.

Finally, for the whole tournament, we have Berry van Peer, who a lot of casual fans will primarily know as being that guy who had real struggles in the Grand Slam years ago with dartitis, but was able to somehow get through, and 2023 has been a real happy story for the still relatively young Dutch player, as he's made his first world championship in either code on account of knocking the Challenge Tour out of the park. van Peer was able to do an enormous amount of damage early - winning one event in Hildesheim in the second weekend, and then winning three events in two days in Milton Keynes in the second weekend, showing a remarkable level of both quality and stamina, considering the level of the field and the amount of matches that needed to be played. This would give Berry a near unassailable lead at the top of the Challenge Tour rankings after three weekends - he showed up for the remaining events, not really doing a lot but doing more than enough to break even, I guess mainly just pushing the finishing line a bit further away if someone wanted to make a hero run at claiming the title. Berry got it, and that gave him a lot of things. It got him into the worlds, it's got him back onto the tour, and it got him into the Slam again - he found himself in a very tough group with Clayton, Rock and Dobey, not getting a win but not looking out of place in any of the games, apart from maybe the final game when he was likely already eliminated anyway so who cares. Elsewhere, Berry's managed to make a pair of Euro Tour events, winning through to the last sixteen in both, beating Josh Rock in Munich in round two before just going down to Keane Barry, and on home soil he was just about able to get past Jonny Clayton before Damon Heta proved far too strong. Berry's Challenge Tour results were able to see him get into the majority of Pro Tour events in the back half of the season, but outside of a quarter final run right before the Matchplay he wasn't able to do a massive deal, and outside of the PDC he was able to win maybe the largest tournament in all of darts in the Dutch Open, beating Joey ten Berge, Arjan Konterman and then new Lakeside champion Andy Baetens in the final to claim a title that must have meant a huge amount to him. I don't think he's quite on Woodhouse's level, but he's certainly not someone that can be overlooked in a very interesting mini-section of the draw.

And with that, the previews are done - will predict the whole event tomorrow for comedy, and put out tips for days 1/2 afterwards. But for now, I'm knackered, and I'm going to bed.

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