Taylor and van Gerwen share spoils in thriller
PHIL TAYLOR and Michael van Gerwen shared a thrilling draw as the McCoy's Premier League Darts season began at Belfast's Odyssey Arena last night.
However, there were defeats for the two other Potteries stars competing in the Premier League this year, Adrian Lewis losing 7-3 to Simon Whitlock while Andy Hamilton went down 7-5 to Robert Thornton.
Taylor and van Gerwen's rematch of January's World Championship final lived up to the billing in front of a sell-out 8,000 crowd, with both players setting up possible nine-darters during the contest.
Van Gerwen, on his Premier League Darts debut, led 3-1 and 6-4 but paid for missing five match darts in the 11th leg as Taylor kept his hopes alive with double 16 before finishing 104 in the game's deciding leg.
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"It was a tough game and it ended up being a great scrap," said Taylor, the reigning Premier League Darts champion. "A draw was probably a fair result in the end.
"I'm happy to get a point on the board but I missed a few doubles at the start and let Michael in and he let me off the hook a bit later on.
"The league's not won in the first four or five weeks and we'll all start to settle down - even I was a little bit nervous tonight and I'm not usually like that!"
Taylor had earlier opened the contest with back-to back 180s, and landed two more maximums in the fifth leg before a key bullseye finish, for an 89 checkout, levelled at three all.
The Dutch ace, though, took three of the next four to earn a point before Taylor hit back to secure a draw.
"I probably should have got both points but I missed five darts to win it," said van Gerwen. "It hurts when you give a point away, but that happens sometimes and I've got another game next week which I'll prepare for now.
"I think I did well for my first Premier League game and I enjoyed it very much. It was an amazing experience and it felt great - I could even have got a nine-darter tonight, the feeling was there but maybe I wasn't quite concentrated enough on the 141 finish because of the excitement of the night."
Aussie ace Whitlock took out finishes of 121 and 108 as he overcame Cross Heath's two-time world champion Lewis in the battle of the Premier League's last two beaten finalists to punish some wayward finishing from the world number two.
"I was hoping to get off with a win tonight and I've managed to do that, so I'm happy," said Whitlock. "The performance probably could have been better, but I hit the doubles at the right time, and a couple of key big finishes, and got the win.
"It's important to get off with a win because nobody wants to be in the relegation places so I'm really happy."
Lewis was left frustrated with his performance, which was typified when he hit a 180 to leave 60 in one leg only to burst his score by hitting the treble 20 - instead of a single 20 to leave tops - when he returned, and he missed 14 darts at a double in the contest.
"I'm very disappointed," he said. "I missed too many doubles and that's what cost me the match.
"When I hit the treble 20 and burst my score it summed up my night. I had Simon and let him off the hook, and it's frustrating - but I'll get back on the practice board and work hard to get ready for Aberdeen next week."
Debutant Thornton survived Hamilton's fightback from 5-1 down as he edged out the 2012 semi-finalist from Dresden.
Thornton took out finishes of 104 and 117 in winning five straight legs before Hamilton, aided by a brace of 80 checkouts, hit back to level.
The UK Open champion, though, won a crucial 11th leg by hitting a 180 and a 120 finish before sealing victory with a fifth 180 in a 12-dart finish.
"Andy has the experience of playing in the Premier League last year and he's one of the toughest opponents in the event, so I'm delighted to get the win," said Thornton.
"He's a street fighter and, like me, he'll never give in so I knew when he started fighting back what could happen. When it went to five-all I just wanted to hold my throw, so to take both points was great.
"It's a good start and the adrenaline rush when I got on stage was unbelievable - it's an amazing atmosphere."
Hamilton, who reached the semi-finals in his debut Premier League season 12 months ago, admitted: "I missed too many doubles early on and that's what lost me the game in the end.
"Robert played the better darts and deserved to win, but the league season's a marathon, not a sprint and this wasn't my night."
The McCoy's Premier League continues next Thursday at the AECC in Aberdeen.
McCoy's Premier League Night One result
Andy Hamilton 5-7 Robert Thornton;
James Wade 7-4 Wes Newton;
Raymond van Barneveld 7-4 Gary Anderson;
Simon Whitlock 7-3 Adrian Lewis;
Phil Taylor 6-6 Michael van Gerwen.