Veenstra stuns World Champion Smith on opening day in Minehead

Richard Veenstra (Kieran Cleeves/PDC)

Richard Veenstra dumped out World Champion Michael Smith on the opening day of the 2023 Cazoo Players Championship Finals, as Michael van Gerwen kicked off his title defence with victory over Callan Rydz.

Day One of the £600,000 event saw all 64 players in first round action at Butlin’s Minehead Resort, with world number one Smith crashing out in unceremonious style on Friday evening.

The St Helens star missed double 12 for a nine-darter midway through the tie, but was punished for a below-par display by a nerveless Veenstra, who averaged 97 to secure the biggest win of his PDC career to date.

Reigning champion Van Gerwen avoided a similar fate, averaging 97 to open his bid for a record-extending eighth Players Championship Finals title with a 6-3 win over an out-of-sorts Rydz.

The Dutch superstar will now meet eighth seed Ross Smith in Saturday afternoon's second round, after the former European Champion averaged 98 and produced 120 and 130 finishes to wrap up a 6-2 rout of Scott Williams.

Newly crowned World Grand Prix and Grand Slam of Darts champion Luke Humphries survived a scare to see off Martin Lukeman, reeling off four straight legs from 4-2 adrift to extend his winning run to eight games.

“I struggled to find my range early on,” admitted Humphries, who averaged 99.67 to complete an impressive fightback.

“The belief is what has changed in my game. When I’m staring defeat in the face I am beginning to find ways to turn it around and win, and I never panicked at any point there.

“I’m a two-time major champion now, but I want to keep riding the crest of a wave, and my will to win is still greater than ever.”

Elsewhere, top seed Gerwyn Price underlined his credentials with a ten-minute whitewash win against Ricky Evans, as he eyes his first PDC Premier ranking title since October 2021.

“I know I’m playing really well - I’m flying,” insisted Price, who will now take on 2012 runner-up Kim Huybrechts after the Belgian fought back from 5-3 down to topple Martin Schindler.

“I’m practising well and every time I am losing, I’m averaging a ton-plus, and it’s taking someone to play really well to knock me out of the tournament.

“The first game is always tough, but I felt quite comfortable tonight and the crowd were brilliant.”

Second seed Gary Anderson was forced to come through a last-leg shoot-out against Steve Beaton, conjuring up a 13-darter in the decider to prevail in a battle of the veterans.

The 2014 champion will now play Dimitri Van den Bergh in a blockbuster battle, after the Belgian capitalised on a profligate display from Jim Williams to return to winning ways.

Masters champion Chris Dobey came through a scrappy affair against five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld, winning four of the last five legs to complete a 6-3 success.

Dobey’s reward is a second round tie with fourth seed Dave Chisnall, who eased through to the last 32 with an emphatic 6-2 victory against Lee Evans, averaging 99 in the process.

Grand Slam runner-up Rob Cross – the runner-up in last year’s Players Championship Finals – recovered from a sluggish start to run out a 6-3 winner against Cameron Menzies in a topsy-turvy affair.

James Wade will take on Steve Lennon for a place in the last 16, after averaging an impressive 101.49 in a 6-2 demolition of William O’Connor to continue his resurgent run of form.

Niels Zonneveld averaged almost 101 to send 2018 champion Daryl Gurney packing, and he now faces 2017 runner-up Jonny Clayton, who accounted for Stephen Burton in his opener.

Third seed Damon Heta raced past Jules van Dongen to set up a clash against Dutchman Kevin Doets, who recovered from 4-2 down to edge out Jose de Sousa in a last-leg shoot-out.

2022 World Youth Champion Josh Rock and Germany’s number one Gabriel Clemens will also collide in round two, courtesy of battling wins against Rowby-John Rodriguez and Connor Scutt respectively.

Earlier in the afternoon, an in-form Stephen Bunting produced terrific 164 and 134 checkouts to overcome Mickey Mansell and move through to a showdown against Gian van Veen.

Dutch star Van Veen swept aside compatriot Chris Landman in quick-fire fashion, averaging 96 and pinning 75% of his attempts at double to book his place in Saturday's second round.

2021 runner-up Ryan Searle crashed in five 180s in his 6-4 success against Boris Krcmar, setting up a clash against Germany’s Ricardo Pietreczko, who eased past a struggling Christian Kist 6-1.

Former Masters champion Joe Cullen thrashed Jamie Hughes by the same scoreline, which creates a second round clash against Ryan Joyce, who accounted for German newcomer Daniel Klose.

Brendan Dolan pinned all six of his double attempts to cap off a flawless display of finishing against Ritchie Edhouse, and he will now play Krzysztof Ratajski’s conqueror, Maik Kuivenhoven.

Ireland’s former World Cup finalist Lennon claimed the scalp of UK Open champion Andrew Gilding, reeling off the last three legs without reply to triumph 6-3.

Luke Woodhouse landed five maximums in his 6-4 victory against Australian icon Simon Whitlock, while Matt Campbell produced a stunning 139 skin-saver on his way to a comeback victory against Dylan Slevin.

Sixth seed Dirk van Duijvenbode was the highest-ranked seed to exit on an action-packed opening day, as the injury-plagued Dutchman succumbed to fellow countryman Jermaine Wattimena.

Meanwhile, Mario Vandenbogaerde hit six of his ten double attempts to brush aside Mike De Decker in a battle of the Belgians, while Poland’s Radek Szaganski breezed to a debut win against Ian White.

Saturday’s double session in Minehead will be split across the Main Stage and Stage Two, with the second round taking place in the afternoon, followed by the third round in a bumper evening session.

Play will be broadcast live on ITV3 & ITV4 in the UK, and through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, with Stage Two coverage broadcast worldwide on PDCTV.

Click here for match stats & results.

2023 Cazoo Players Championship Finals
Friday November 24
First Round
Afternoon Session
Main Stage

Ross Smith 6-2 Scott Williams
Ryan Searle 6-4 Boris Krcmar
Damon Heta 6-1 Jules van Dongen
Gian van Veen 6-1 Chris Landman
Rob Cross 6-3 Cameron Menzies
Josh Rock 6-4 Rowby-John Rodriguez
James Wade 6-2 William O'Connor
Jonny Clayton 6-4 Stephen Burton

Stage Two
Stephen Bunting v Gian van Veen 
Ryan Searle v Ricardo Pietreczko 
Matt Campbell v Mario Vandenbogaerde
Maik Kuivenhoven v Brendan Dolan
Rob Cross v Luke Woodhouse 
Josh Rock v Gabriel Clemens 
Ryan Joyce v Joe Cullen
Jonny Clayton v Niels Zonneveld 
James Wade v Steve Lennon
Best of 11 legs

Evening Session (1900-2300 GMT)
Third Round
Main Stage & Stage Two

Best of 19 legs