MICHAEL VAN GERWEN clinched the first European Tour title of 2018 with a thrilling comeback win over Peter Wright to secure the European Darts Open for a third time.
In an incredible final at the Ostermann Arena in Leverkusen, Van Gerwen initially struggled to get going and trailed by four legs at one stage as Wright pressed the early advantage.
Pouncing on missed doubles in the opening leg, Wright found double 17 to break and take the lead.
With Van Gerwen firing in his first 180 to set up 48 in the second, he was dismayed to see Wright plant a stunning 110 finish to move two clear.
An 80 checkout gave the world number one his first footing in the game, but then he could only watch on as yet more costly misses allowed Wright two holds and another break of throw to lead 5-1.
An 11-dart leg for Van Gerwen, the best of the final, closed the gap to three at 5-2.
The Dutchman then capitalised on some slack tungsten from Wright to rattle off three more legs and level at five-all.
World number two Wright then regained his composure and broke back with an excellent 81 checkout to lead 6-5 and move two away from the title.
Another hold with an under-pressure 78 checkout put Wright on the brink of retaining his European Darts Open title at 7-5.
Delight then turned to despair for Wright as he agonisingly wired the bullseye to clinch the title, allowing Van Gerwen to close the gap to one with a 13-dart finish.
Van Gerwen then stepped up to land his ninth 180 of the final on the way to a 12-dart leg as he restored parity at seven-all to force a deciding leg.
Throwing for the title, the Dutchman stayed consistent on the trebles as he rounded off the victory with another 13-dart leg - finished on double 16 with Wright requiring the same target.
The £25,000 title takes Van Gerwen’s tally of European Tour wins up to a staggering 21 since his first victory in 2013.
"I love the European Tour tournaments - all the people coming to watch all the time is phenomenal," said Van Gerwen. "I'm just glad to win.
"I played terrible in the first part of the game, I missed lots of doubles and needed to improve. Luckily for me I did exactly that and it was enough to clinch the win.
"I love these titles, the crowd were fantastic and really gave me a lift throughout."
The weekend saw a welcome return to form for Wright, and a much needed break from Unibet Premier League action after suffering three straight 7-1 defeats in that competition.
Despite seeing his European Darts Open title slip from his grasp in a deciding leg, Wright was pleased with his performances in Leverkusen.
"I've been struggling big time, and to take seven legs off Michael van Gerwen - the best player there is at the moment - makes me very happy," said Wright.
"I thought the bullseye [to win] was going, I was ready to shake his hand but it wasn’t to be."
The signs of Van Gerwen's prowess were evident from the start on Day Three, as he kicked off with a 6-3 win over Alan Norris - averaging 105 in the process.
Simon Whitlock was then comfortably dealt with in the quarter-finals with a 6-1 success, again averaging just over 100 and landing a 170 checkout en route.
The heavy scoring continued in the semi-finals as the Dutchman brought an abrupt end to Richard North's impressive run with a 7-1 thumping.
Emerging star North had earlier beaten World Champion Rob Cross and Ron Meulenkamp to reach his first semi-final on the European Tour.
Wright's run to the final started on Sunday afternoon with a 6-2 third round win over World Grand Prix semi-finalist John Henderson.
He then brushed aside Joe Cullen 6-3 before overcoming a resurgent James Wade 7-4 in the last four in a semi-final which featured incredible finishing.
Wade took out 161 and 121 as he landed four doubles from as many attempts, but Wright landed 7/8 finishes and followed a 170 checkout by sealing his place in the final with a 109 combination.
Wade will be pleased with his efforts that saw him average 105 in a third round victory over Michael Smith, as well as beating Mervyn King in the quarter-finals.
The European Tour continues with the German Darts Grand Prix over the Easter weekend, with the action in Munich being held from Saturday March 31-Monday April 2.
The event will be broadcast for all PDCTV-HD Subscribers worldwide, as well as via a series of bookmakers' websites.
Pictures by Kelly Deckers, PDC Europe
2018 European Darts Open
Sunday March 25
Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Alan Norris
Simon Whitlock 6-1 Dave Chisnall
Ron Meulenkamp 6-1 Justin Pipe
Rob Cross 5-6 Richard North
Peter Wright 6-2 John Henderson
Joe Cullen 6-5 Chris Dobey
Mervyn King 6-3 Mensur Suljovic
James Wade 6-4 Michael Smith
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Simon Whitlock
Ron Meulenkamp 2-6 Richard North
Peter Wright 6-3 Joe Cullen
Mervyn King 4-6 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 7-1 Richard North
Peter Wright 7-4 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 8-7 Peter Wright
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