Gary Welding’s stunning victory over number one seed Colin Lloyd has blown the top half of the Ladbrokes.com World Championship draw wide open.
The St Helens qualifier produced one of the most remarkable turnarounds in darts history, winning 3-2 after the world’s top-ranked player had looked to be cruising into the second round.
Lloyd’s three-dart average in the first set was a massive 112.7 but after he had taken a 2-0 lead his standard began to drop and Welding, a former Skybet World Grand Prix quarter-finalist, found his form with a vengeance.
The tide began to turn and the world number 52 quickly got on top, scoring heavily and finishing with aplomb as he ended the challenge of a man who had been tipped as the only credible threat to 12-times champion Phil ’The Power’ Taylor.
“I was confident of beating him,” insisted Welding after his triumph against the man nicknamed ’Jaws’. “I’ve been hitting a lot of 180s in practice.
“I ignored what Colin was doing early in the match and just stuck in there and never gave in. It was all down to determination.
“I thought I had the second worst draw next to having to face Phil Taylor, but Colin has been playing as well as Phil. I thought if I could beat him I would get all the limelight!”
Welding will certainly receive plenty more attention in Purfleet, for a place in the final on January 2 is now wide open after Lloyd’s exit.
Favourite to get there is Taylor’s protégé Adrian Lewis, while others with their eye on the £100,000 (€148,018) showdown are Andy Jenkins, Peter Manley, Roland Scholten and Dennis Priestley.
They will be delighted to have avoided the half of the draw that contains Taylor, Kevin Painter, Mark Dudbridge, Wayne Mardle, John Part, Ronnie Baxter and Alan Warriner-Little.
“That lot can sort themselves out and I’ll have the top half,” quipped Welding.
A lively outsider whom Welding could potentially meet in round three is American number one John Kuczynski.
Anyone who questioned the wisdom of inviting 16 overseas players to the Circus Tavern has already been forced to eat their words.
Some people thought allocating a quarter of the places in the 64-man field to competitors from around the globe was expansion for the sake of it, considering only eight of the PDC’s top 100 ranked players are from outside Britain and Ireland.
But the foreign contingent have acquitted themselves superbly so far, nobody better than Kuczynski who whitewashed 16th seed Lionel Sams without dropping a leg.
Last year Kuczynski qualified for the BDO World Championship in Frimley Green, where he was thrashed in the first round by Ted Hankey.
However, he has certainly made the most of his invitation to this event as one of three men from the United States in the line-up alongside Ray Carver and Darin Young.
Darts is hardly big news across the pond but Kuczynski believes competing against the best performers on the planet can only boost the sport in his native country.
“Myself and the other American guys are good players and we can only get better the more we compete over here,” said the 32-year-old from Pennsylvania.
“At the moment it doesn’t mean a lot to be the USA’s number one.
“We play each other about 25 to 30 times a year but if you keep facing guys of a similar standard all the time you won’t improve much.
“That’s why it’s important to take on the top players. I want to win the trophy and beat Phil Taylor.”
Dethroning the 12 times champion looks a tall order for Kuczynski at present but there is no doubt he looked at ease during his victory over Sams – much more so than his opponent, whose record in televised events is poor.
“I love it on the big stage,” said Kuczynski. “I look at it as being my home. If you don’t, you’re in trouble because these guys are so experienced.
“I’ve played in this sort of atmosphere before and did well but not well enough to win. I’ve not been playing too well in practice since I arrived in England but I was solid in my first match and did what I had to do to win.”
Kuczynski’s next match will be against another overseas player, Jan van der Rassel, the first-round conqueror of 1996 BDO world champion Steve Beaton, while another Dutchman, 24-year-old Erwin Extercatte, went through by knocking out 32nd seed Darren Webster.