Could darts follow in the footsteps of snooker and create a 'Shoot Out' style tournament? Former major winner and leading darts pundit and commentator Paul Nicholson discusses this and more in his latest Sporting Life column.
- Follow Paul @TheAsset180 Nicholson on Twitter
This week, the Asset also looks back on an astounding weekend on the Pro Tour as we witnessed two of the all time great Players Championship finals between Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price and Michael van Gerwen while he also discusses how the leading trio are inspiring a surge in standards across the board.
Paul, who saves some praise for a resurgent Devon Peterson and looks ahead to the start of the European Tour season, concludes with his predictions for Thursday night's Premier League action in Dublin and his weekly treble which comes in at almost 13/1!
SHOOT FOR THE SKY WITH DARTS
There was a lot of talk on social media over the weekend about whether darts should introduce a Shoot Out tournament like we’ve seen in snooker and I think it would be a great idea.
A few different potential formats have been put forward but for me there’s only one way to go and that’s one leg of 1001, with the closest to the bull throwing first.
Some have suggested 501 best-of-three legs but that’s the same as the old News of the World tournament and the Red Dragon Champion of Champions event that takes place in August.
This has to be different, more fun and unpredictable.
The beauty of this is its simplicity but I do like the idea that Chris Mason put forward of introducing ‘equal darts’ into the format.
For those unaware of it, this is a system that was used a lot back in the day and meant if a player took out 501 in 15 darts, for example, their opponent would have 15 darts to draw.
If that happened then they’d play the leg again and although in 1001 that probably wouldn’t happen very often, it would add an extra bit of drama.
As far as for the tournament size and how long it would go on for, I’d have the world’s top 128 taking part over a maximum of two days because it’s got to be fast, furious and fun.
I think the PDC wouldn’t have to ditch an existing tournament either, they could even squeeze it in on a Bank Holiday which would be perfect placement.
What do people do on a Bank Holiday Monday evening? They sit in front of the TV and relax - so give them this on freeview. The more people who watch this kind of event can only increase the interest and involvement in the sport regardless of their age or sex.
The players would all be up for it too, I’m sure, as long as the location is ideal because their tournament might only last one leg!
A lot of major arenas in big cities would want to host it but I’d personally want it to be staged in Glasgow or Edinburgh because the Scottish crowds are so noisy.
Snooker has a shot clock so a ‘throw clock’ in a darts version wouldn’t be a bad idea but I don’t think we’re in a culture anymore where there’s that many slow players for it to make much difference.
The talk about it won’t go away until we try it so let’s just get it done because I believe it would be awesome.
WRIGHT AT THE TOP
Peter Wright produced arguably the greatest single day performance in Players Championship history on Saturday.
Not only did he average 100+ in six of his seven games, including that massive 120 against Adrian Gray, but he hit a 170 checkout to beat Gerwyn Price in a final that both players reached 109!
I tweeted last Sunday that we’d be hard pressed to get a better Players Championship final this season than Krzysztof Ratajski v Ian White so it just goes to show that a week is a very long time in darts.
It was sensational to watch and I also loved the spirit the final was played in, with multiple handshakes and smiles at the end and I really think this sums up the great sportsmanship we’re seeing as a whole this season.
Peter averaged 106 overall for the day but for him to look disappointed with his mark of 120 against Adrian due to missing a dart at tops to break his own world record says to me that it will get popped this season.
I looked through the top 32 and I reckon the only other player who would also have felt frustrated with that kind of average in those circumstances is Michael van Gerwen.
Snakebite’s performances throughout the whole day further emphasises the work he’s is putting in right now and the standard he’s expecting to reach with these world championship-winning barrels that have helped his stats reach nosebleed territory since he started using them two months ago.
Peter said the way he’s playing will give others belief and I completely agree with that. When someone plays that well against you, the one word that flashes in your mind is motivation because it makes you feel you can also achieve it with the same hard work and dedication.
I’ve known Peter since November 2008 and in those 11 and a half years he’s not changed one bit – apart from his hair and outfits!
Money hasn’t changed his work ethic and love for the game – so when those players who have been around him all these years see what he’s doing now at his age, it can only inspire them to try and emulate him.
Adrian Gray may have lost 6-0 to him but he would have felt privileged to see steel tip darts played to that standard in front of his very eyes.
He’s going to need to work really hard to keep his Tour Card this season but perhaps being involved in a match like that shows how much he’s got to lift his levels and will be exactly the kind of motivation he needs.
PRICE RIGHT ON SUNDAY
Sunday’s Players Championship final between Gerwyn Price and Michael van Gerwen was almost as crazy and one of the finest we’ve ever seen, yet their averages of 102 and 101 were around eight below what we saw the day before!
It was probably a better game, however, and just like on Saturday, it ended in great spirit and a landmark type shot with Price finishing 94 on the bullseye after MVG had left 36 with a stunning visit of 174.
As brilliantly as Price played and finished the game, it’s almost been forgotten how well Michael did to come back from 7-5 down to force a decider and it shows just how hard he’s working to get his first title of the season.
If it wasn’t for the pin-point brilliance of Price, he’d have got it.
All of the talk of his new darts just has to go out of the window right now because he is playing so well. It just so happens that the other two players in the top three are playing as well, if not slightly better.
Many will feel Price v MVG is the best duel in the world right now but it’s obviously up for heated debate.
Those two finals show the smallest margins are separating these three players right now from winning events – 170 checkouts and 94 on the bullseye at the end of epic showdowns.
I think we’re going to have these three at it all year. Price won’t take his foot off the gas, Wright wants titles like sprinkles on his ice cream and although MVG hasn’t got any yet, he’ll still be wanting about 15 by the end of 2020!
Michael van Gerwen is the king of the European Tour and maybe this weekend is the perfect opportunity for him to win his first title when the season gets under way in Belgium.
The standard on the European Tour might not be at the same statistical level compared to the Players Championship events because when you put people on stage there are more anxieties and nerves, particularly in closer games.
The sterile atmosphere of the floor tends to breed more perfection which is why we see more nine darters, and there was another two of those at the weekend to take the tally up to nine for the season.
But even so, I still think we’re going to see more big averages on the European Tour this year and hopefully we’ll see more rivalries coming from it as well.
I hope we don’t get Michael van Gerwen reaching most of the finals again and winning about eight of them – I want to see a season where nobody picks up more than three and we see more spread out among great talents such as White, Ratajski, Price and the likes of Ryan Searle who are rising up through the ranks.
There are so many players now chomping at the bit to take the standards they’ve shown on the floor and prove they can do it on the stage.
If MVG doesn’t win as many titles as usual you will get people who think his standards are slipping – but they’ll probably not be looking close enough at the statistics of everyone else and how he’s being beaten.
Every player is raising their levels and looking at ways to improve their lives as professional dart players. I’ve seen some change their diets and exercise regimes, their practice times and methods while the use of coaches is also becoming more prevalent. It’s now becoming more about being a ‘team’ than an individual player.
In the past there were some players who would coast during their careers, expecting things to happen and then get found out because they’ve become lazy. But nowadays, because of the standards, you can’t afford to do this.
Devon Petersen didn’t deliver in 2019 despite a few spells of promise but when you make technique changes – as he has been doing lately – it does take time for those to bed in and become natural.
Sometimes you also need that break at the start of the day to give you confidence to go on a run and that’s what happened to him on Saturday when beating Harry Ward 6-5 despite averaging two points less with 97.
In the past you could get away with a high 80s or low 90s average to get through the first round or two but now you’re almost needing to reach 100 in most games and maybe Devon is starting to realise that’s where he needs to be on a consistent basis.
Even I was surprised to see him average 111 in the last 32 – I didn’t think he was capable of it. But when someone does that, you realise they must be doing something better now.
His technique after working with Wayne Mardle, who has done a fantastic job, is so much better than ever before. There were some late release issues with Devon, the shoulder was getting involved and the back lift wasn’t far enough, but now it looks a much better relaxed throw.
The stats and the runs don’t lie. He’s taken out world-class players like Rob Cross, Dimitri van den Bergh and Stephen Bunting, whom he beat 6-0. If he keeps this going he’ll have a very good season.
Peter Wright 7-5 Rob Cross
Peter got off to a really good start and looked as calm as ever, even when Rob Cross came back at him. He’s not showing a great deal of emotion on stage at the moment so he’s clearly in a really good place. Cross isn’t playing great darts at the moment but boy is he scrapping well and this shows he’s working really hard. When you’re not playing your best but still managing to stay in touch of a world champion at the top of his game speaks volumes and for me he’s becoming the new James Wade. He’s going to be a real thorn in peoples side this season and he secretly relishes the challenge of trying to prove the bookies and analysts wrong.
Jonny Clayton 1-7 Michael Smith
Jonny Clayton started well by taking the first leg but after that Michael Smith looked the player we all want him to be and while he may not have reached the same average heights as he did the previous week, there was no negativity or jitters about finishing the match off. His 142 checkout to win the match was a fabulous way to seal his first victory and he might now relax in the coming weeks.
Michael van Gerwen 5-7 Nathan Aspinall
Nathan Aspinall did really well to keep palming Michael off in a tremendous battle and then took his chance for victory as soon as it came his way, Michael didn’t play poorly – it’s just opponents are seemingly ready to play their best against him. Nathan is showing real spirit in his debut season and although it was only week three, just look how much he enjoyed it. We don’t see that from some of the more seasoned guys because they’re used to it but the way he celebrated it made it seem the biggest win of his career.
Daryl Gurney 6-6 Gerwyn Price
It’s so strange that Gerwyn has drawn all three of his games now and has been the player needing to win the last leg to snatch a point. It happened a lot last year too so he ought to change his nickname to something draw related! It’s also ridiculous that he’s not won a game yet is just two points off the top. Gurney deserves credit for hanging in there on another night when he had to play the hometown hero having lost to Gary Anderson in Aberdeen. In three weeks he’s been booed on the oche more often than not and he’s held himself together professionally.
Glen Durrant 7-4 Gary Anderson
Glen Durrant is loving life in the Premier League. You see some players who can’t handle the travelling and everything else that goes with it but his experience in the game and mental fortitude means he’s made for this tournament. Glen’s doubling so far has been terrific and he was at it again last week to pick up another win to go top. Gary Anderson was using longer points for whatever reason and I don’t think he looked as comfortable. He might just be tinkering with a few things.
WEEK FOUR PREDICTIONS: DUBLIN
- Glen Durrant 6/4 v Aspinall 6/5, draw 10/3
It wouldn’t surprise me if Glen Durrant extends his unbeaten run to four games because I think Nathan Aspinall is more likely to have an off night than Duzza. If you look at the way he’s played over the first three weeks he’s had some good moments but Glen has been more consistent and he’s held himself together with less aggressiveness. This could mean he’s got more in the tank right now.
I don’t think there’s any danger of Glen getting ahead of himself because he’s never been the kind of player that does. The work he’s done with hypnotherapists to get himself in the right mindset for all the different type of challenges over the past few years means he’s almost programmed like some kind of machine. He never looks past the next game and that’s what makes him so dangerous. He’s one of the best ‘in the moment’ players in the whole world.
I think Nathan will out score Glen but he’s likely to be out doubled and these are the types of games I want to see right now. As much as I love the MVG v Anderson type matches we’ve been treated to down the years, it’s great to have something a little different like this one, between two debutants at opposite ends of the age spectrum. I reckon it’ll go the full 12 legs and although I’m not sure which way it will go, I do think Glen should be favourite.
- Rob Cross 7/4 v Gary Anderson 11/10, draw 3/1
Rob Cross once again finds himself as underdog but proving people wrong is what he’s done best over the last few seasons, especially when some people said he was going to be a one hit wonder after winning the world title. Rob may not be producing his best darts at the moment but he’s going through a transitional period with his weight loss and the resulting balance issues.
He’s clearly sick of people doubting him right now and I have to hold my hands up and say I didn’t think he’d win any of his opening three games. His performances show just how tenacious he is – even in defeat against Peter Wright – and I admire that in a player.
Gary has been pure class throughout his career but at the moment I don’t know what he’s going to turn up with week to week. I want to see the kind of darts he produced in the last three legs of his victory over Daryl Gurney and if he does that, then Rob Cross loses. It’s that simple. But if the Gary who played Glen Durrant last week shows up again then Rob can edge it.
- Daryl Gurney 7/4 v Michael Smith 11/10, draw 3/1
Michael Smith is clearly playing the better darts right now with greater consistency so he has to be favourite. Daryl Gurney did get that battling point against Gerwyn Price, but overall he’s not trending as well.
Whether we see more explosive darts from Michael depends on how well he copes with Daryl’s rhythm because while he’s not a slow player, he’s certainly not fast. This means Michael has more time at the back of the stage with his brain whirling around and thinking about stuff – which he didn’t have to do against the sneaky quick Jonny Clayton.
Gurney, who has fond memories of this city having won the World Grand Prix in 2017, may take an extra deep breath or two to try and bring Smith into his game a bit more but I’m still going to go with Bully Boy just because of how high he’ll have his tail up after last week’s performance.
- William O’Connor 7/1 v MVG 1/4, draw 5/1
William O’Connor fully deserves his selection as a Challenger having represented Ireland at the top level for quite some time and he won’t care a jot that he’s facing Michael van Gerwen.
If it was me in Newcastle, I’d also want the biggest game there is and that would be Van Gerwen. It’s like in American Football – I always think teams who come through the NFC secretly want to play the Patriots in the final just so they can say “when we won the Super Bowl we beat the Patriots”.
Peter Wright had the same attitude against Michael in the world championship final – it adds that extra bit of sweetener to a victory by beating the best – so William will equally relish this challenge, knowing victory will make him an Irish hero for years to come.
He has started the season quite well and maintained some of the standard that helped him win his first Pro Tour title in 2019. He’s beaten MVG on more than one occasion and has the scoring ability to live with him right now.
But this is a big step up. Although he’ll have the home support, he’s never played in a venue like the 3Arena, which is like the Opera House for darts. The atmosphere the Dubliners bring here is off the scale and it’s all about how he’s able to hold it together against Michael in this match.
Michael is so experienced and will be ready for such an atmosphere, although ironically it was in Dublin where he received huge crowd support during the 2012 World Grand Prix final against Mervyn King, who was booed throughout!
You have to favour MVG when you think how well statistically he’s playing despite his lack of titles and the hunger he has to get back on the winning train. I fancy him to win but Willie can get three or four legs.
- Gerwyn Price 6/4 v Peter Wright 5/4, draw 3/1
What more can you say about this game after what happened on Saturday afternoon?
These guys are at the top of their game after winning titles this weekend and firing on pretty much every cylinder but Peter Wright has been playing better on the Premier League stage.
That said, maybe this is the right time for Gerwyn to explode and have that one big performance. It’ll have been good for him to have that final with Peter at the weekend to give him a gauge of just how well he’ll need to play on Thursday night.
It’s so close to call and this could well be a thrilling draw – Price’s fourth in four weeks!