Five players battle to stop the rot and get back on TV
Every year in darts new stars emerge and old stars pack away their competitive tungsten for good, but 2017 is unique for the possibility of witnessing so many of the veteran PDC darts players – with whom darts fans grew up and have enduring allegiances – fail to qualify for TV events. By no means are the careers of players like Andy Hamilton and Vincent van der Voort ending, but they may be entering into a phase of their competitive life that involves fewer triumphant entrances onto televised stages and more grinding in the typical PDC floor venues of Wigan and Barnsley. The following five players, absent remarkable returns to form, are very much in danger of disappearing from the televised stage. The darts world will be saddened if they do; but there are dozens of young players currently making their mark on tour that would be all too pleased to bring the veterans’ years-long runs in major tournaments to an end.
Wes Newton played one of his most recent televised matches in December 2015, when he described a 1st round victory over Cristo Reyes at the 2016 World Championship as his “worst ever performance”, in which he won the first set of the match with a 67 average. His open and honest approach to his lapse of form has won him countless new fans, but since then he has not reached the quarterfinal of any tournament he has entered, causing him to fall from the 26th ranked player in the world to number 64 today, placing him on the brink of losing his tour card for the 2018 season. Recovery from a shoulder injury has proven difficult for the Warrior. Newton has accumulated only £2,250 in the first 16 ranking events held in 2017 and he intimated on Twitter last month that Unicorn had discontinued his sponsorship. Newton’s tour card guarantees him entry to the remaining 10 Players Championships and 7 European Tour UK qualifiers, so it is possible that with deep runs in a few tournaments Newton could qualify for the Players Championship Finals or stabilize his Order of Merit rank and mount a comeback from there. If Newton is forced to win back his tour card, he would certainly be a favorite to do so at the 2018 Q School.
The Hammer described failing to qualify for the 2017 World Championship – which ended a 12-year run of appearances at that event – as “a new low point” in his career. Currently ranked 54th in the PDC, Andy Hamilton is likely to retain his tour card as he is defending very little in the way of earnings from the second half of 2015. But that is unlikely to satisfy the tenacious Stoke native, a World Championship finalist as little as five years ago, Hamilton’s form hinted at a comeback in the second weekend of last April, in which he beat three top-64 players (Wes Newton, Jamie Lewis, Ronny Huybrechts) and qualified himself for the German Open. A last-16 finish at a Players Championship has put him within a few hundred pounds of the pace to qualify for the Players Championship Finals, but other televised tournaments have fallen out of reach for him this year. Hamilton’s unique throwing action looks increasingly outmoded in a PDC stocked with technically proficient young players, but it has worked marvelously for the three-time ranking title winner in the past and he has given no indication of giving up the fight.
VINCENT VAN DER VOORT
A weary Vincent van der Voort confessed to Dan Dawson after losing to Max Hopp in the 2017 World Championship that persistent pain from a back injury was threatening to bring his darts career to a close, much to the dismay of darts fans for whom his quick throwing style and wildly popular walk-on music have been major attractions to the game. Whether back pain continues to try Vincent’s endurance in May is an open question, as Vincent has not elaborated on his hint at an impending retirement. Within three months of that interview, however, the Dutch Destroyer smashed his way through to the fifth round of the UK Open, taking out a 106 finish in a deciding leg to dump out fellow Dutchman Jelle Klaasen. van der Voort, however, is defending substantially more money earned in 2015 than he is earning this year, and has fallen to 27th in the Order of Merit. If Fast Vinny fancies another go on the Ally Pally stage, he will have to fight hard for it, as he has not advanced beyond the second round of a Players Championship event this year and is well behind schedule on earnings to qualify for the World Matchplay or the World Grand Prix.
The world number 32, Jamie Caven, has clung on to his top-32 position gamely for months thanks to appearances in Blackpool and Dublin, but he will find further defense of his ranking difficult in light of the recent successes of Steve West, John Henderson and Christian Kist on and off the European Tour. Caven is not matching his successes on the 2015 European Tour with corresponding exploits on the 2017 circuit, and disappointed himself with a first round loss to Kevin Painter at Ally Pally in December. Without an appearance on the Euro Tour thus far, Caven nonetheless put forth an encouraging finish at the third Players Championship, in which he whitewashed James Wilson and secured a £1500 prize. Of any player in danger of falling under the radar of televised darts, Caven is probably most secure in his current position, as his mediocre 2015 campaign leaves him reasonable targets to meet as he defends earnings from two years ago. A 6-5 loss to Matt Clark in a deciding qualifier match for Sindelfingen suggests that Caven is close to breaking through for a good result; but the dropped last-leg decider nevertheless netted him not a single penny.
A recent glance at the list of Dolan’s 2017 ranking cashes revealed an astonishing fact – that Brendan Dolan, a mainstay of televised darts and a legendary History Maker for his throwing of the first-ever double-start perfect leg, could miss the majority of major tournaments this year. Dolan was seeded throughout his 2015 European Tour campaign, which guaranteed him a four-figure cash for every appearance he made, but this year the Ulsterman has not appeared at any European Tour event, having lost to Darren Webster and Steve Beaton in matches that would have qualified him for an outing in Germany. A mere £3,500 of ranking money earned in the Players Championships puts him nearly out of the race for Blackpool and Dublin – a great shock for a player who had acquitted himself so well at Ally Pally just months ago. Dolan is ranked 26th in the PDC – comfortably within the top 32 for the time being – but he must turn his game around quickly if he wants to stay in that position.