Column #CM2 The UK Open – is this really a column?
Monday, March 14, 2016
The UK Open – is this really a column?
Although I am still not quite sure what a column really is I agreed to write one and my new boss, Dartoid, made me visit the UK Open as the tournament offered a chance for a journalistic attempt. And so, while he left the United States together with Stacy Bromberg for a pleasure trip to Machu Picchu and Easter Island I was on my way to the middle of British nowhere or – to be more precise – to Minehead where the UK Open took place for the third time.
It is not that Minehead has always been in the middle of nowhere – in the medieval period it was a major trading center with an important harbour. Today it is a small seaside resort and the start of the East Somerset Coastal Path but although it is not really far from cities like Bristol or Bath it is not easy to get there – both, by public transport and by car.
The main attraction for the tourists and – twice a year – for the darts fans – is the Butlins Resort. Butlins Resorts were widespread in England in the past but somehow the concept of holiday resorts is no longer successful and most of them closed. The one in Minehead still exists because a lot of money was invested, more self-catering accommodation was built and they had the idea to offer adult only weekends outside the bathing season. Two of the weekends are darts weekends – the UK Open and the Players Championship Finals – and despite the unpopular dates early in March and late in November, those weekends are usually sold out. You can’t get any tickets besides the darts and accommodation packages which are sold by Butlins – which means the fans are stuck there for three days. In the first year, the packages were all inclusive, by now they are darts and accommodation only but in the resort and outside in the town there are more than enough restaurants, bars and other eating places should you not intend to prepare meals for yourselves. And of course, during the weekends Butlins offers entertainment as well. This might be the reason the crowd is a bit different from, let`s say, the Premier League crowd. The party takes place somewhere else in Butlins – when you are in the venue or rather the three venues for the first two days you will watch the darts. Nevertheless the atmosphere is great, a lot of people are dressed up and sometimes the crowd entertains itself by playing beach ball – and enjoy it very much when the officials and the security fail to catch and confiscate the balls.
The first day is the day the amateur qualifiers and the rank and file players have their appearance in the limelight of the eight stages – or rather the two stages and the six boards in the three venues. Board one – the main stage in the arena is the board that is completely televised while you only see bits and pieces from all other boards (although board two is filmed all the time and there are two cameras around the other six boards as well). That really is a shame! This year most of the players on stage one during the first two rounds were well-known names like Kevin Painter, Ronny Huybrechts or Wes Newton while most no names were buried at the floor like boards in center stage. It was a pity as a lot of good matches were played and never shown on TV. Two of the players didn’t register so their opponents got a bye. One of the first round victims was the only North American in the field, Ken MacNeil, who lost to one of the amateur qualifiers, Rob Cross, who survived the first two days. A win over co-amateur Dean Stewart started Barry Lynn’s dream tournament.
For some well-known players the tournament was over after the first round, among them Alan Tabern and Andy Smith.
In round two our successful amateurs Cross and Lynn defeated Wes Newton and Brett Claydon. In round three the top 32 of the UK Open Order of Merit entered the tournament and a new draw took place. There are no seeds in this tournament but a lot of the top players were drawn against each other and Tony Newell was the only amateur who played in round three on the main stage, losing to Arian Lewis. There were definitely some surprises during the third round – Ian White and Steve Beaton were eliminated, David Pallett almost won against Raymond van Barneveld, James Wade was destroyed by Mensur Suljovic, Mervyn King went out against Benito van de Pas in a really poor performance, and Andy Hamilton had no chance against Australian Kyle Anderson. The only German player in the tournament had a lot of problems with his first UK Open and was beaten by James Wilson. Only two of the amateurs were still standing at the end of the day: Rob Cross who won against Jeffrey de Graaf in the third round and Barry Lynn who played an epic game against Brendan Dolan which took so long the PDC decided to do the draw for the fourth round before the match was over.
The boards were reduced overnight and the fourth round was now played on four boards but still in three venues. The hopes of Simon Whitlock, Terry Jenkins and Raymond van Barneveld ended on the main stage. Michael van Gerwen produced his 9-darter and two 170 finishes and sent amateur Rob Cross packing. While the Dutchman played his sensational performance on the main stage, I was glued to stage two, where amateur Barry Lynn jumped all over world champion Gary Anderson. I never felt I had missed anything.
The fifth round draw followed directly after the fourth round was over and it started to get easier to have at least a look at all the matches. Joe Cullen and Jelle Klaasen showed impressive performances on the main stage and Michael van Gerwen dispatched Kim Huybrechts. Phil Taylor looked a little bit tired but nevertheless got rid of Vincent van der Voort. On the second stage Mark Webster defeated Mensur Suljovic and handled well all tactics of the Austrian, amateur Barry Lynn won against Stuart Kellett, a blue with white stared Peter Wright defeated Darren Webster and Benito van de Pas was eliminated by Kyle Anderson in a strong performance.
The third day was completely played on the main stage and started with the quarterfinals which turned out to be a little bit one-sided. No idea what had happened to Kyle Anderson overnight – he couldn’t find either scores or doubles on the day. It took Joe Cullen too long to settle on stage and Peter Wright won. Then we had our amateur Barry Lynn on stage against Michael van Gerwen – exactly the player he had hoped to avoid in the quarterfinals. Lynn played a decent match but van Gerwen was just unstoppable at the weekend. Mark Webster always had a lot of respect of Phil Taylor who seems to be a little bit of a bogey opponent to him – and of course lost.
What followed were not really thrilling semi-finals between Peter Wright and Jelle Klaasen and Michael van Gerwen and Phil Taylor. For Klaasen it just didn’t happen this time and Michael van Gerwen played in main gear – too much for a really strong playing Phil Taylor.
And after all these three days of great and not so great darts we ended up with exactly the same final as the year before and even before the final it was quite clear who would be the winner – old and new champion Michael van Gerwen and I just can’t see a player who’ll stop him with the exception of a Gary Anderson in top form and possibly Phil “The Power” Taylor who should be back to his best soon…
All in all the UK Open again was an interesting tournament. It was quite revealing when Jelle Klaasen answered the question how he managed to improve so much that the reason was that now he had a baby he finally knew why he played. It was moving to watch amateur Barry Lynn play and to hear him say that although he had qualified for the tournament he just didn`t have 450 pounds the weekend in Minehead would cost him and that in the end family and friends collected the money and organized the transport. It was even more touching to listen to Australian Kyle Anderson when he explained what he and his family had to take on so that he could play in England and that it is very tough for him to be separated from his family even when he now lives his darting dream. And those are the stories which in the end – besides all the darting excellence of players like van Gerwen and Taylor – really make up the sport of darts.
All in all I had a great time in Minehead and a lot of fun beside its lack of archaeological sites and the icy temperatures.
I hope now that what I wrote for Dartoid’s World qualifies as a column. Should the boss accept it – to be sure you’ll hear from me again!
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