MICHAEL SMITH enjoyed a winning return to action at the BetVictor Masters on Saturday night, as Peter Wright, James Wade and Joe Cullen progressed to the quarter-finals in Milton Keynes.
World number six Smith enjoyed a memorable January, competing in the World Championship final on New Year's Day before his wedding the following week.
Having enjoyed a break from playing for his honeymoon, Smith returned to the oche in style with a superb start to his Masters campaign, averaging 101.41 in a 10-5 triumph over Ian White.
After seeing the Stoke ace take the opener, three successive legs put Smith in command at 3-1, only for White to fire in an 11-darter as he hit back to level after ten legs.
Smith, though, pulled clear with legs of 14, 13 and 14, punishing White's misses to lead 9-5 and finished tops to secure his quarter-final place.
"It's good to get the job done and win," said Smith. "I didn't feel too comfortable in the first ten legs but after the second break I was more like myself.
"We probably both felt like we could have been 8-2 up after ten legs, but I knew what I had to do at five-all and I got away from him, and luckily I got over the line."
Smith now faces a quarter-final tie with Peter Wright, who overcame a sluggish start against Adrian Lewis and survived two missed match darts before claiming a 10-9 win.
Lewis opened the tie with an 11-darter and led 3-0 before Wright took four legs in a row to edge ahead.
Lewis then claimed four straight legs, landing a 101 finish in the process, as he moved 7-4 up, and the two-time World Champion also led 8-6 courtesy of a 61 finish.
Wright took out 120 and 83 to level before double ten put him 9-8 up as he moved ahead for the first time since leg seven.
Double eight from Lewis forced a deciding leg, but the Stoke star missed double top and ten to finish 97, and Wright returned to land tops and snatch a place in the last eight.
"It's great to win but it was tough," said Wright. "I think we were both battling ourselves and not each other.
"I've worked really hard this month so I stuck with it and got through. If I could take my practice game up there, it would have been a lot better.
"Tomorrow's a different day so we'll see what happens - I've got time to improve."
2014 Masters champion James Wade began his bid for a second title in the event with a 10-7 win over Gerwyn Price in Saturday's opening tie.
Wade's opening 14-darter was cancelled out by a 13-dart finish by the Welshman, only for the left-hander to claim the next five legs - including two breaks of throw - to open up a 6-1 lead.
Price finished 90, 100 and 73 to claim three of the next five legs, but Wade posted double ten to move a leg away from the win.
Three successive legs from Price kept his hopes alive as he threatened a comeback, but two missed doubles to cut the gap to one leg were punished as Wade landed double six for victory.
"I'm happy to get through that game," said Wade. "It was a funny game - I took an early lead and he started to come back towards the end.
"I didn't play as well as I wanted to but he gave me the opportunities and I took them. People know that if they don't take out their doubles against me, I'll be there."
Joe Cullen enjoyed a winning Masters debut as he knocked out world number two Rob Cross with a 10-6 success.
Cullen made the early running to lead 2-0 and 4-1, before a 124 finish sparked Cross' response.
However, the former World Champion was crucially unable to level in leg eight and leg 14 - where he missed two darts at a double - as Cullen held on to his advantage.
The European Championship semi-finalist then produced a key 107 checkout, to follow an earlier 100 finish, as he moved 9-6 up before sealing victory on double eight.
"It feels really good," said Cullen. "We were both a bit rusty early on but I got ahead and stayed there.
"I don't feel like I turned up today and it was probably a 6/10 performance, but I got through.
"I had a good 2018 and I want to keep on progressing. This is a great event to be in, it's the elite and to get a win over the world number two is fantastic."
Sunday's final day of action begins with the quarter-finals in the afternoon session, with former finalist Dave Chisnall up against Stephen Bunting before reigning champion Michael van Gerwen takes on Mensur Suljovic.
The BetVictor Masters will be broadcast live on ITV4 and worldwide through the PDC's broadcast partners, and throughfor Rest of the World Subscribers.
A limited number of tickets for the BetVictor Masters are still available from SeeTickets.
2019 BetVictor Masters
Saturday February 2
4x First Round
James Wade 10-7 Gerwyn Price
Joe Cullen 10-6 Rob Cross
Michael Smith 10-5 Ian White
Peter Wright 10-9 Adrian Lewis
Sunday February 3
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT)
Dave Chisnall v Stephen Bunting
Michael van Gerwen v Mensur Suljovic
Joe Cullen v James Wade
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
Van Gerwen/Suljovic v Chisnall/Bunting
Cullen/Wade v Smith/Wright