THE 2018 Auckland Darts Masters presented by TAB and Burger King got underway with a bang as the reigning Shanghai Darts Master Michael Smith was dumped out on day one by Mark McGrath.
The night also saw defending champion Kyle Anderson progress, Rob Cross and Simon Whitlock survive match-darts and Gary Anderson set up a mouthwatering quarter-final clash with Michael van Gerwen. There were also wins for Peter Wright and Raymond van Barneveld at the Trusts Arena.
It will be a tournament to forget though for the former World Youth Champion Michael Smith as he suffered an early upset at the hands of Mark McGrath in the opening round in Auckland.
Smith who had claimed his first senior televised title in China less than a month before was punished for only hitting 21% of his shots at doubles as McGrath progressed in to the quarter-finals.
The pair exchanged holds of throw until the sixth leg where McGrath broke to take a 4-2 lead.
a 78 checkout from Smith in the next leg saw him break back before levelling again.
A scrappy ninth leg ended with the man from New Zealand pinning double one after a 26-dart leg.
McGrath then delighted the New Zealand crowd, pinning tops to seal the victory.
“It’s the best win of my career but hopefully there are a couple more to come.
“I think Michael was a little under the weather but this is still going to take a little while to sink in,” said McGrath who will now face Raymond van Barneveld in the last eight after the five time world-champion beat Warren Parry 6-4.
In a repeat of their first round clash in Auckland a year earlier, Van Barneveld once again was too strong beating his opponent by the same 6-4 scoreline as 2017.
Four maximum and almost 50% success rate on doubles was enough for the Dutchman in the end as he booked his place in the last eight.
Reigning Auckland Darts Masters champion Kyle Anderson got his campaign to defend his title underway with a 6-4 win against Haupai Puha.
Puha, a former champion golfer, started the better of the pair, racing in to a 3-1 lead before a spirited comeback saw Anderson win five of the final six legs to progress in Auckland.
“I’ll be honest and say I’m having a bit of an issue with my confidence at the moment.
“In the practice room I was playing great but I just couldn’t transfer it to the start of that match,” said Anderson.
“The guys over here are getting better and better and it’s so good to see players from this part of the world improve.
“The opportunity to play on TV is a massive chance to make your family proud and I think that’s why the standard of the qualifiers at TV events is so high now,” concluded the 30-year-old.
Anderson will come up against Peter Wright in the last eight as the Scot made the quarter-finals in Auckland for the third time in four years after a 6-3 win over Tahuna Irwin.
The young man from Gisborne, New Zealand, who will make his first appearance at the World Championship in December at the age of 22 will have gained valuable experience on his big stage debut but the quality of Wright, including a 121 bullseye finish, shone through on the night.
World number one Michael van Gerwen will face newly crowned World Matchplay champion Gary Anderson in the tie of the quarter-finals after beating Cody Harris 6-2.
The two-time World Champion, who missed the World Series event in New Zealand last year due to the birth of his daughter Zoe, was in no mood to be dragged in to a close match after his first round defeat in the Matchplay a week earlier averaged 102.45 in Auckland.
A 120 finish from Van Gerwen was the highlight of the match but almost 55% success rate on double attempts shows the world’s top player means business this weekend.
“I don’t want to lose ever, so when Jeffrey beat me last week it was tough.
“I played well today and didn’t make any mistakes, I can do better but that is a good start,” said Van Gerwen.
Gary Anderson progressed in to the last eight with a 6-3 win over Australian Tim Pusey.
An average of 94 and a 100 checkout was comfortably enough for the Scot who was in control throughout the match to set up a quarter-final encounter with the world number one.
“It will be good to play Michael, we always have great games so I’m looking forward to it.
“It was great to win in Blackpool last week and hopefully I can carry on the run here in New Zealand,” offered Anderson after his victory.
World Champion Rob Cross saw John Hurring miss two-match darts in the deciding leg of their encounter before the Englishman eventually got over the line to set up a quarter-final match with Simon Whitlock
It was another TV debut for one of the Oceanic representatives as Hurring gave himself the chance to beat the world number three in Auckland.
Cross produced a piece of magic in the third leg taking out 150 to move in to the lead but Hurring was able to stick with the 27-year-old pushing the game in to a deciding leg.
The New Zealand thrower left 56 after nine darts but was unable to convert either of his two attempts at tops to move in to the last eight.
“I’ve been impressed with the standard of the qualifiers in the practice room, darts is getting bigger and bigger and the guys over here keep improving,” said Cross.
“I needed a bit of luck tonight but if I come back tomorrow and play as well as I can then I know I’ve got a good chance of doing well,” concluded the champion of the world.
Simon Whitlock also had to survive a match-dart in the opening match of the evening in Auckland as Ben Robb pushed him all the way to a last leg decider at the Trusts Arena.
Robb, who had only found out he had been selected for the event two days ago after a late withdrawal from Corey Cadby, struck finishes of 101 and 124 as he pushed the world number seven all the way to a final leg.
The 29-year-old from New Zealand who was making his television debut had a dart at double 16 to beat the former European Champion but was unable to convert, allowing Whitlock to seal the win on the same target.
“I’m really happy just to have gotten over the line to be honest,” said Whitlock.
“I was told he was a good player so I expected a tough game and I needed a bit of luck in the end.”
The Auckland Darts Masters continues on Saturday with the quarter-final ties taking place in a best of 19 format at the Trusts Arena.
Auckland Darts Masters, Presented by TAB and Burger King
Friday August 3 (7pm local time)
Simon Whitlock 6-5 Ben Robb
Rob Cross 6-5 John Hurring
Mark McGrath 6-4 Michael Smith
Raymond van Barneveld 6-4 Warren Parry
Kyle Anderson 6-4 Haupai Puha
Peter Wright 6-3 Tahuna Irwin
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Cody Harris
Gary Anderson 6-3 Tim Pusey
Saturday August 4 (7pm)
Rob Cross v Simon Whitlock
Mark McGrath v Raymond van Barneveld
Gary Anderson v Michael van Gerwen
Peter Wright v Kyle Anderson
Best of 19 legs