It was impossible to watch Phil Taylor retain his Premier League Darts crown last week without a sense of inevitability. Of all his major tournament victories, however, this was probably the least predictable – at least after his terrible start to the competition – and therefore one of the most impressive.
In what now feels like a parallel tournament, after four matches of the 2008 Premier League Taylor was bottom of the pile, with one victory and three defeats. Considering that he had never been beaten in the three previous years of the competition, these shock defeats, along with his failure to capture the PDC World Championship in either 2007 or 2008, had given genuine credence to the notion that his long reign at the top of darts was finally ending.
For his fifth match, ‘The Power’ played with new darts. It is more likely, however, that it was something in his head which changed. Stunned by not reaching the World Championship final for the first time since 1993, it clearly took Taylor a few weeks to come to terms with his shock quarter-final defeat. So what better way to illustrate a return to form than with a re-match against the player who beat him, Wayne Mardle. Taylor meant business, and, without playing particularly well, destroyed ‘Hawaii 501’, 8-0.
The confidence returned. Taylor followed up with eight victories in the next nine league matches, a draw with Terry Jenkins the only blip. For each of those nine consecutive weeks, Taylor scored a three-dart average of over 100 – indeed, only two names appear in the top ten averages for the tournament: John Part, in tenth place, with 103.66; Phil Taylor, in every place from first to ninth.
In a tournament habitually peppered with close matches, draws, and final leg deciders, Taylor’s results illustrate the devastation he left behind: 8-3 against John Part (twice); 8-3 and 8-2 against Raymond Van Barneveld; 8-3 against Adrian Lewis; 8-1 against Peter Manley, and also in the rematch with Mardle. James Wade, who would succumb to Taylor in the final, lost their second league match by the narrowest margin, a miserly 8-4.
On finals night, Taylor once again showed that he had re-discovered that mental capacity required to remain at the top of his sport. He warmed up with a ludicrous 112.7 average in the 11-1 semi-final mismatch with Adrian Lewis – the highest ever average in the tournament. Then, having traded legs to lead Wade 3-2, the grinding brilliance instrumental in his success for approaching twenty years returned. The Power took six consecutive legs without Wade having a single shot at a double.
The highlight was the end of the ninth. Sitting on 93, Taylor misses the treble 19 and lands a single 3. Stunned, he pauses, and turns to the referee:
“Is that a 3?”
Neither he nor the thousands staring at the big screens at the CIA in Cardiff can believe their eyes. With disgust, but intense concentration, he hits bullseye, double top to win the leg.
From 11-5 Wade takes three consecutive legs. Darts is so much about rhythm, about patches of unbeatable confidence – and about stopping your opponent getting into one. Sensing Wade has found his range, Taylor steps up the quality once again. He starts the twentieth leg starts with a 180, and wins in 13 darts. This is followed by legs of 12, 12, 12 and 11 dart legs, and in a matter of minutes the title is his. Predictably.
It is one of the great displays of televised darts, made all the more special as the number of Taylor victories still to come is diminishing. For years it was only John Part who ever looked like beating the maestro. Then along came Barney. As well as those defeats in the early weeks of the Premier League, to Jenkins, Manley and Wade, and the World Championship defeat to Mardle, in the last twelve months Taylor has lost televised matches to Barneveld (UK Open) and Terry Jenkins (World Matchplay), as well as to Mark Dudbridge and Adrian Gray in Las Vegas and Ireland respectively. There will be no more ‘easy’ tournament victories. And at some point in the next one to five years, Taylor’s unparalleled dominance of this, or any other, sport, will reach its final conclusion.
He will remain hot favourite with the bookies to lift the PDC’s most coveted trophy on Monday 4th January 2009, but there is increasing evidence that Phil Taylor will never again be introduced as current champion of the woooooooooorld. All of which points to one thing – the final chance to watch the greatest dart player who ever lived decimate all who challenge him is approaching. Every remaining opportunity should be relished.