In the end, this year’s Premier League finale went according to the script. Michael van Gerwen, the best player on the planet, retained his Premier League crown, winning the tournament for a fifth time, and moving to within one of Phil Taylor’s record haul of six titles. It would be a brave person to bet against the world number one equalling Taylor’s tally in 2020.
When we look back at the 2019 Premier League Play-Offs, held at The O2 Arena, in London, last night, on paper, it looked like a comfortable night’s work for van Gerwen. A 10-7 win against Daryl Gurney in the semi-finals, followed by an 11-5 triumph over Rob Cross in the final. Even the other semi-final, Cross overcoming Wade 10-5, went to script, as the top two in the Premier League table, and the top two on the PDC Order of Merit, met in the decider.
When you delve closer into van Gerwen’s route to the title last night, though, you can point to two key moments, one in each of the two games, as particularly significant. The first of those came in the evening’s curtain-raiser, in the semi-final with Gurney.
In the early exchanges, van Gerwen was averaging at one stage 20 more points than Gurney, yet the Dutchman could not quite find the necessary ammunition to pull clear of his opponent. The two were locked at 5-5 at the end of the first session, at which point the board was changed and Gurney took the early initiative by landing the first break of throw to go 6-5 in front.
Now with the throw, and with his sights set on moving 7-5 clear in a race to 10, Gurney came unstuck and van Gerwen, showing that killer instinct synonymous with serial champions, reeling off five of the next six legs to win 10-7. One obstacle cleared, one more to go.
Up against Cross, in a battle of the last two winners of the PDC World Championship, van Gerwen flexed his muscles early on to storm into a 5-1 lead, and it appeared that Cross was heading for another heavy defeat against the only man above him in the Order of Merit.
The head-to-head between the two had read van Gerwen 15 Cross 3 before the final, with the former having won both meetings in the league phase of the Premier League comfortably, 7-2 and then 8-2. Another one-sided scoreline was on the cards before Cross hit back, three legs on the spin to close to within one.
Now it was Cross strutting his stuff on the oche, fist pumping to the crowd after every big shot, but three missed darts at double for 5-5 proved so costly, as van Gerwen polished off 74 with one dart at tops to regain the authority at the interval.
6-4 soon became 11-5, again another surge after the break from the defending champion, this time winning five of the six legs upon resumption to cruise over the line and to a fifth Premier League title.
It was not exactly vintage van Gerwen, and those two moments mentioned highlight he did not have things all his own way last night. But when you saw him lift the trophy aloft once more, this particular one for the fourth year running, you cannot help but feel like you are watching someone who, most importantly, is well-accustomed to big nights like this.
Van Gerwen is the best of his generation, his talent is unquestioned, but what he has also done is build up a wealth of experience, despite only turning 30 during this Premier League season. Take only the Premier League on its own, this was van Gerwen’s seventh Premier League campaign, he has finished top in all seven and reached the final in all seven. This is a player, who compared to his two opponents last night, has stacks of knowledge of how to get over the line on the big occasions.
Gurney is a two-time major winner, but last night was his first taste of playing at The O2. For Cross, the 2018 world champion, last night was his second appearance in the play-offs, but the first in the showpiece final. Both will benefit from last night’s experience, while van Gerwen will bask in the glory of yet another big title to add to his overflowing collection.
2019 Premier League Play-Offs
Michael van Gerwen 10-7 Daryl Gurney
Rob Cross 10-5 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 11-5 Rob Cross
Pictures: Lawrence Lustig/PDC