Luke Humphries, Luke Littler and Michael van Gerwen made winning returns to action as the 2024 Bahrain Darts Masters began on Thursday – but three stars were given scares in the first round.
The PDC World Series of Darts event in The Dome at the Bahrain International Circuit sees 16 players competing across two action-packed days – and it was the recent World Championship finalists who headlined the first round action.
Humphries produced a superb 6-0 whitewash over Bahrain’s Abdulla Saeed in a strong start to life as World Champion.
The new world number one averaged over 98 and closed out a strong display against the qualifier with a 108 checkout as he moved through to a quarter-final tie with Gerwyn Price.
“I’m really pleased and obviously it was a decent performance,” said Humphries, who has now won 20 consecutive matches. “Abdulla played really good in patches, so it was important that I put in a good performance myself.
“I felt good up there and it was a solid performance; my scoring was good, my doubling was okay and I did what I needed to do.
“I hope the winning run keeps continuing. This is a fantastic World Series event, it’s a great place to come and it would be a really nice one to put on my CV because the next thing for me is to win a World Series event.”
Teenage sensation Littler made his eagerly-anticipated return to action with a 6-3 comeback win over Hong Kong’s Man Lok Leung.
Leung capitalised on a slow start from the World Championship finalist to open up a 2-0 lead, finishing 107 in the first leg.
Littler, though, finished 77 to open his account in leg three, levelled on double ten and then produced checkouts of 151 and 136 on his way to a 5-2 lead, before finishing 120 in leg nine to close out the win.
The 16-year-old now plays Nathan Aspinall in Friday’s quarter-finals, after the former US Darts Masters winner survived a huge scare in his Bahrain opener.
Aspinall survived two missed match darts from Lourence Ilagan before completing his comeback from 5-3 down to edge out the 2023 PDC Asian Tour number one with a brilliant 12-darter in the deciding leg of their clash.
Ilagan came from a leg down to lead 3-1, and also moved 5-3 up before Aspinall produced back-to-back 14-dart legs to save the game – surviving misses at double 16 and double eight from Ilagan – before finishing 102 for a 12-darter to snatch victory.
“I started off well but he couldn’t miss a double and he put me under pressure,” said Aspinall.
“As I always do, I found a way to win and I think I pulled out three fantastic legs at the end. I’m very happy to get the win and it’s a big day tomorrow.”
Aspinall added: “Lourence is a fantastic player who’s been around for many years and I knew I had a tough game.
“The inclusion of the Asian Tour players has been great and they’ve shown how good their standard is.”
Peter Wright defied a 170 checkout from Haruki Muramatsu as he came from 3-2 down to eventually close out a 6-5 win over the PDC Asian Championship winner.
“I got away with it,” said Wright. “It was always going to be a diffcult game after changing my set-up and my standing position, but I got there in the end and I can take the positives.
“Haruki played well and you can see the Asian players getting better and better now. They’re quality darts players and they want to be World Champion.”
Reigning champion Michael Smith was another player to survive two missed match darts in a dramatic finale to his tie with Paolo Nebrida.
The Filipino ace pushed Smith all the way, finishing 118 to level in leg eight before moving 5-4 up, but he was punished for missing two darts at double 16 in the deciding leg as Smith pounced to keep alive his hopes of retaining the elegant date palm trophy.
“I was too inconsistent and gave him chances, but I was putting too much pressure on myself,” said Smith. “It was a good test and luckily enough I’m back in the next round.”
Welsh ace Price also endured some nervy moments before closing out a 6-4 win over Reynaldo Rivera, after the Filipino hopeful took out 104 in leg nine to keep his hopes alive and missed tops to take their tie into a deciding leg.
Van Gerwen was another whitewash winner, averaging 106 in an impressive defeat of Bahraini qualifier Hasan Haji.
“My darts were going well and overall I can’t complain – to win 6-0 with a 106 average is always how you want to start a tournament,” he said.
“I’ve never won this event and I quite like this trophy, so I want to win tomorrow!”
The Dutchman’s quarter-final opponent will be Rob Cross, who booked his spot in the quarter-finals with a 6-3 win over Tomoya Goto, despite the Japanese ace hitting back from 3-0 down to level their tie.
Following Thursday’s first round, the 2024 Bahrain Darts Masters concludes on Friday with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in one bumper session.
The Bahrain Darts Masters will be broadcast live on PDCTV in all territories other than Germany, Austria & Switzerland (coverage via DAZN).
UK viewers can watch through ITV4 for Friday’s final stages from 1630 GMT.
2024 Bahrain Darts Masters
Thursday January 18
Peter Wright 6-5 Haruki Muramatsu
Gerwyn Price 6-4 Reynaldo Rivera
Nathan Aspinall 6-5 Lourence Ilagan
Rob Cross 6-3 Tomoya Goto
Luke Littler 6-3 Man Lok Leung
Luke Humphries 6-0 Abdulla Saeed
Michael van Gerwen 6-0 Hasan Haji
Michael Smith 6-5 Paolo Nebrida
Friday January 19 (1900 local time, 1600 GMT)
Luke Humphries v Gerwyn Price
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
Nathan Aspinall v Luke Littler
Michael van Gerwen v Rob Cross
Best of 11 legs
Humphries/Price v Aspinall/Littler
Van Gerwen/Cross v Smith/Wright
Best of 13 legs
Humphries/Price/Aspinall/Littler v Van Gerwen/Cross/Smith/Wright
Best of 15 legs