Following 32 consecutive nights of darting drama, the first phase of the PDC Home Tour drew to a close on Monday evening and there has been no shortage of talking points.
The PDC’s decision to introduce the Home Tour was met by a mixture of excitement and scepticism but having hosted world-class darts with over 100 Tour Card holders in action, it’s provided terrific entertainment during a period where live sport is in desperately short supply.
The tournament kicked off in dramatic fashion as the headline acts fell by the wayside, although during the latter stages of the initial group phase, the bigger names have demonstrated their pedigree to some tune, with Gary Anderson overcoming his WiFi woes to prevail on Night 30.
We now have a week to catch our breath before the competition resumes, and the brief hiatus represents an opportune juncture to reflect on some of the major talking points to emerge from the thriving ‘Darts At Home’ concept.
Woodhouse achieves perfection
Luke Woodhouse made history on Night Two of the PDC Home Tour, landing a spectacular nine-dart finish from his own kitchen en route to a 5-0 whitewash win over Gerwyn Price.
Woodhouse averaged almost 114 in his demolition of ‘The Iceman’ – the highest individual average posted in the opening phase of the Home Tour.
The 31-year-old also defeated Rowby-John Rodriguez and Ted Evetts to breeze through to the last 32 and he remains the only player to have landed the magical nine-darter in the competition thus far.
There were 47 perfect legs hit on the PDC circuit in 2019 and that remarkable record appeared under immediate threat following a sparkling start to the 2020 campaign, but a kitchen nine-darter really is uncharted territory.
Big names struggle
There were no shortage of upsets particularly in the early stages of the competition, as two of the world’s top three were denied top spot in their respective groups across the opening two nights.
World champion Peter Wright produced a series of under-par displays before losing out to Jamie Lewis on Night One, while world No 3 Price succumbed to an inspired Woodhouse 24 hours later.
Michael Smith, James Wade, Ian White and Simon Whitlock were among the other high-profile names who struggled to adapt to the unique concept, with just four of the world’s top ten securing their progression.
Michael van Gerwen, Daryl Gurney, Mensur Suljovic and Adrian Lewis were among the absentees which also contributed to the unpredictable nature of the event.
The unfamiliar concept of playing from home – which can be compared to the more subdued Pro Tour environment – has appeared to favour the less decorated faces.
The established names have an indisputable edge against their counterparts in major televised tournaments, but the Home Tour has proved to be a real leveller.
Out of the 32 group winners, 12 are ranked outside the world’s top 70 – including seven players languishing outside of the world’s top 100.
Admittedly that includes new Tour Card holders such as Scott Waites and Jeff Smith – who contested the 2016 BDO world final. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t detract from the admirable exploits of those lower down the darting echelons.
The global game
The strength in depth within world darts has never been stronger from a global perspective and that’s been illustrated throughout the Home Tour, which augurs well ahead of the sport’s return.
There are 11 different nationalities represented in the last 32 of the Home Tour, with Sweden’s Daniel Larsson, Spain’s Jesus Noguera, Belgium’s Mike De Decker and Australia’s Damon Heta among those to progress.
Karel Sedlacek from the Czech Republic came agonisingly close to edging out Rob Cross in his group, whilst Hong Kong’s Kai Fan Leung also impressed – beating Chris Dobey at 5am in Hong Kong time in front of his dog Bauble!
PDC Chief Executive Matt Porter insisted that the tournament’s principal aim was to provide all Tour Card holders with the opportunity to engage in competitive darts and that decision has certainly been vindicated.
De Sousa & Cullen steal the show
Jose De Sousa produced a string of sensational displays to progress through Group 25; boasting a tournament average of 104.80 and conceding the solitary leg in his wins over Robert Thornton, Keegan Brown and Reece Robinson.
The enigmatic Portuguese star enjoyed a breakthrough 2019 and claimed two Pro Tour titles during the latter stages of the season – his Home Tour exploits have served another pertinent reminder of his credentials.
Despite this, De Sousa’s devastating displays were usurped by Joe Cullen, who stormed to glory on the penultimate night of action with a majestic tournament average of 106.65.
Having finished runner-up in Group 20, ‘The Rockstar’ returned to complete a clean sweep on Night 31 – defeating Price, Keegan Brown and Bradley Brooks for the cumulative loss of five legs.
All 128 Tour Card holders were given the opportunity to feature in the innovative Home Tour and 101 players took up the invitation, with some either unable to participate or simply opting not to compete.
As a result, places in the final six groups were allocated to previous runners-up based on their PDC Order of Merit position, with Wright, Price and Smith among the returning stars.
Smith and Price were denied by the rampant duo of Luke Humphries and Cullen, but Wright progressed on Night 32 to keep his hopes of glory alive.
It’s been refreshing to see unheralded names grasp their opportunity in the spotlight, although having the world champion still in contention for the title adds a certain kudos as we embark on the next phase.
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