It was all over the town: my first day in Minehead was determined by the darts. It started already before I walked over to the venue - Michael van Gerwen, reigning champion and favourite to win the title - had withdrawn from the tournament due to a back injury. So the outcome of the tournament suddenly was wide open though of course after his Premier League performance the night before Peter Wright had taken over the position.
Rather interesting or might be even strange the crowd didn't look too disappointed, one only could feel an - uncertainty - whom should you cheer now and who support? Something what was very noticeable in the crowd as well - there were no Michael van Gerwen shirts to be seen only a lot of Chisnall, Wrights and Jackpots.
The first two rounds were over quite fast and most of the amateur qualifiers already out. The third round only reached Alex Roy, Paul Hogan, Paul Barham and Johnny Haines. Who didn't survive his first match in second round as well was the only German speaking participant Austrian Zoran Lerchbacher, who lost to Matthew Dennant. Dennant played just better in the second half of the match and the format is too short to excuse mistakes. Chris Mason said after the match that he had worked quite hard with Dennant und prepared him for the tournament which showed though Dennant lost third round.
After the first two rounds there was a new draw - the top 31 (as van Gerwen was not there) entered the event in round three. Instead of the mandatory small cloth bag which was used for the draw so far now some kind of table with a transparent "mixing bowl" appeared on stage. It took some time till everybody knew how to proceed. Cristo Reyes then was the lucky one who got the bye for the third round. Barrie Bates who still was in the tournament was drawn against Raymond van Barneveld in a repeat of the 2006 final and I really have to underline how well Bates performed. He made life quite hard for van Barneveld und threw a few great legs. The atmosphere for the match on stage two was outstanding though most of the crowd didn't seem able to decide whether to cheer the Welshman or the Dutchman. I am sure Barrie enjoyed it even though he lost.
Ronnie Baxter - another name from the past as he was once a top 10 player - till now played a good tournament and survived the first day as did Alan Tabern. Simon Whitlock showed a good performance and some young dart fans in my accommodation think he might be able even to win the event. Mark Webster showed a lot of battle in his third round match against Ross Twell, impressive was the unknown Martin Lukewell. Peter Wright had an easy match against James Richardson but problem with a strained ankle.
It was rather unlucky that James Wade was drawn against a very determined Adrian Lewis. None of the two Premier League players showed a really great match but in the end it was a deserved win for Lewis. Dave Chisnall - probably with new momentum after his successful Premier League evening in Exeter - was much too good for Jamie Caven. Jelle Klaasen and Kim Huybrechts progressed as well in fourth round but had rather close matches against Jonny Clayton and Brian Wood.
Rob Cross one of the surprise winner of the last UK Open who now is successful on the Pro Tour, eliminated experienced amateur qualifier Johnny Haines while on the main stage the next sensation was in the making - Paul Hogan was involved in a real fight with Gary Anderson. Anderson's Matchdarts hit the Bullseye but bounced of the board and Paul "Crocodile Dundee" progressed into the fourth round.
So at the end of the first day with James Wade and Gary Anderson two more favourites were out of the tournament and Peter Wright now suddenly is the top favourite to win. One can only hope his ankle injury will not harm him too much - we are running out on favourites fast.
Well, during the last match I really spied beside the second stage two "Green Men", so they still exist the van Gerwen fans. Hopefully he'll be soon able to play again though what Vincent van der Voort mentioned when asked sounded like it might take some time.