Chris Dobey dumped out defending champion Joe Cullen on a dramatic opening night at the Cazoo Masters, as 2014 winner James Wade joined former finalists Gary Anderson and Dave Chisnall in reaching round two in Milton Keynes.
The opening night of this year’s showpiece saw eight first round ties take place at the Marshall Arena on Friday, as Dobey produced a classy display to curtail Cullen’s title defence.
Dobey, a quarter-finalist at the Cazoo World Darts Championship, followed up a magnificent Bull, 25, Bull 125 checkout to lead 4-3, which he followed with a 12-dart hold to move to the brink of victory.
Cullen replied with a nerveless 108 skin-saver to preserve his hopes, only to miss one dart at tops to force a decider, as Bedlington thrower Dobey kept his cool to clinch a 6-4 win.
“That 125 checkout changed the game. Joe was on top early doors, but then my scoring came alive,” said Dobey, who now plays fifth seed Luke Humphries for a place in the last eight.
“I’ve been playing really well in practice, but there’s been a bit of a break since the World Championship, so I was delighted with that tonight.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence following the World Championship, especially getting over the line against Rob [Cross and Gary [Anderson] and hopefully I can continue this form.”
Gary Anderson marked his first appearance of 2023 with victory over Dimitri Van den Bergh, running out a 6-4 winner to set up a clash against Rob Cross in a battle of the former World Champions.
The Scot fired in six maximums in an entertaining affair against Van den Bergh, who threatened an unlikely comeback courtesy of a stunning 136 combination in leg seven.
The pair missed 33 darts at double between them in a topsy-turvy affair, but after the Belgian spurned three darts to force a decider, Anderson nailed double 16 to wrap up proceedings.
“I’ve been putting in so much practice in with Ryan [Searle] and I have been playing really well,” reflected Anderson, a Masters runner-up in 2017.
“The doubles tonight were a little bit shaky, but I’m starting to enjoy the game again and that’s the main thing.
“It’s a fresh start for me this year. I’m looking forward to playing again and there’s no pressure on me, so whatever happens, happens.”
Former champions Wade and Jonny Clayton will lock horns for a place in Sunday’s quarter-finals, after 2014 winner Wade produced a fine display to dispatch Callan Rydz 6-2.
Rydz drew first blood with a clinical 116 combination, but Wade responded by winning six of the next seven legs, averaging 98 and converting six of his eight attempts at double.
“I know what I’m capable of. I’ve been there and done it, but talk is cheap and I need to start performing,” admitted Wade, an ever-present at the Masters.
“I’ve been practising really hard and I’m feeling motivated for the first time in about 18 months.
“I’ve been lazy and people around me have been working harder, but when I am dedicated and serious, I believe I’m one of the best players in the world.”
Ross Smith survived two match darts in his deciding-leg defeat of Damon Heta to set up an enthralling last 16 tie against World Champion Michael Smith, in a repeat of October’s European Championship final.
Masters debutant Smith opened with a maximum and converted a 130 outshot to enjoy the perfect start, before becoming embroiled in a real battle against World Cup winner Heta.
The Australian frittered away four darts to break throw in a crucial ninth leg, and he was left to rue missing two match darts at double ten in a nervy conclusion, as Smith held his nerve to prevail.
“I’m used to me and Damon having absolute belters and neither of us played well tonight, but a win is a win,” said European Champion Smith.
“I’ve got the opportunity to improve in my next game and I believe I will.
“Tomorrow will be extremely tough. Michael is World Champion, he’s world number one, but there’s no pressure on me, I’m going to enjoy myself and I’m looking forward to it.”
Elsewhere, Stephen Bunting defied a spirited fightback from Nathan Aspinall to come through a last-leg shoot-out and book a second round tussle against UK Open champion Danny Noppert.
Bunting fired in legs of 13, 12, 16 and 12 darts to race 4-0 ahead with a 113 average, before fending off a tenacious Aspinall in the latter stages to register his first win at the Masters since 2019.
In Friday’s curtain-raiser, two-time runner-up Chisnall produced a sensational 161 checkout to edge out Ryan Searle in a dramatic last-leg decider.
Chisnall, beaten by Cullen in last year’s final, trailed 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 against Searle, who squandered five match darts for a 6-3 success in leg nine.
The St Helens star duly capitalised to level at five apiece, before conjuring up a majestic 161 finish to move through to a showdown against 2020 champion Peter Wright.
Dirk van Duijvenbode came through a hard-fought clash against Krzysztof Ratajski to set up a last 16 clash against fourth seed Gerwyn Price, reeling off four consecutive legs from 3-2 down to progress.
Van Duijvenbode opened his account with a superb 12-darter, and although Ratajski rallied to seize the initiative midway through the tie, the Dutchman’s 60% checkout success rate proved decisive.
In Friday’s other first round tie, Jose De Sousa recorded a hard-fought 6-4 victory over World Championship semi-finalist Gabriel Clemens, and his reward is a last 16 tie against five-time winner Michael van Gerwen.
Saturday’s second round will see the eight seeded stars enter the fray, as World Champion Michael Smith opens his challenge against Ross Smith in Saturday evening’s headline act.
Van Gerwen will play last year’s semi-finalist De Sousa, while Saturday afternoon’s action will feature a heavyweight showdown between Cross and Anderson, while Clayton and Wade also collide.
Friday January 27
First Round x8
Dave Chisnall 6-5 Ryan Searle
James Wade 6-2 Callan Rydz
Dirk van Duijvenbode 6-3 Krzysztof Ratajski
Stephen Bunting 6-5 Nathan Aspinall
Gary Anderson 6-4 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Jose de Sousa 6-4 Gabriel Clemens
Chris Dobey 6-4 Joe Cullen
Ross Smith 6-5 Damon Heta