FORMER PDC top 10 player Justin Pipe was the highest ranked player in the 2018 Plymouth Darts Open and although he has slipped down the rankings since, his pedigree was evident throughout the day, on his way to claiming the title.
Top darts players from Devon, Cornwall and further afield converged on the city yesterday to test their ability in the £1500 tournament, that was jointly sponsored by North Yorkshire brewery John Smiths and Barbican hostelry, Porters and heading the Plymouth contingent was John Mann, who was bidding for a third successive title.
He opened his account against fellow Plymouth marksman Paul Barclay who hit a maximum with his first three darts but could not prevent the reigning champion from progressing by a 4-0 margin, clinching the final leg in 15.
Mann followed with two more clinical victories to make the last 16 and was joined by Mark Shears who was also making good progress with two 4-0 successes against Matt Nicholson and John Dennis, aided by a checkout of 134.
NO PIPE DREAM: Justin Pipe was a popular winner of the 2018 Plymouth Open and is seen receiving his winner's cheque for £740 from joint sponsor and Porters licensee Steve Bishop. Also pictured is runner-up Neil Meneer and Tournament Director James Cook.
Following a 4-0 win over Andrew Cook, Plymouth’s Malcolm Johns was taken to 3-3 by Danny Robinson before the Cornishman sealed victory with a 12 dart leg following throws of 140, 180 and 134.
Mark Turner eased through to the last 16 on board one and joining him was fellow Plymouth marksman Rob Thorning who had never before been past the first round of any previous Plymouth Open.
But the 61-year-old was enjoying the occasion and emerged a 4-1 winner over Ashley Williams, taking the fifth and decisive leg with an outshot of 111.
In the other half of the draw, Mike Beard won three consecutive matches without dropping a leg, including the scalp of the 2016 Champion of Champions winner, Phil Stewart.
Antony Hayman, last year’s Plymouth Open runner-up, was hoping to go one better this time around and began with a 4-1 defeat of Lee Rodmell in 17, 18, 17 and 16 before following up that success with a 4-0 victory in 21, 19, 18 and 21 against Wayne Wadsworth.
There was also an outstanding match on the same board between Plymouth’s Paul Palmer and Rob Collins from Bognor Regis.
The two players were at 2-2 before Palmer edged in front when finishing a 15-dart leg with an outshot of 109, only for his opponent to level with a 15-darter of his own before winning it in 16.
Cornishman Neil Meneer got to the last 16, dropping just a single leg and was joined by Ash Sandon-James who caught the eye when putting out Thom Humphrey 4-2 in 16, 17, 16 and 18.
Not surprisingly, spectators thronged around board three when Justin Pipe embarked on his opening match and they were rewarded with an opening throw of 180 by the former tree surgeon before he took the leg in 18.
He hit another in leg two but despite leaving 56 after just nine darts, his opponent Dai Astley grabbed himself a bit of glory when he took the leg with an outshot of 119 before Pipe progressed when taking the next three in 17, 16 and 15.
Pipe followed up with a 4-0 victory over Plymouth’s Scott Wapshott in 18, 18, 14 and 18, just wiring the bull in the fourth leg, preventing him from achieving a finish of 158.
Two Plymouth players also joined Pipe in the last 16 from board three, namely Neil White, who had three successive wins with the loss of just a single leg and Lewis Dare who also boasted three victories.
Thorning was the first player into the last eight when he ousted Turner 4-2 before Shears ended the hopes of Truro’s Robinson 4-1.
Mann took a 2-1 lead over Chris Hunt, but the Exeter marksman stepped up a gear and levelled in 13 following two maximums in just three throws.
He then moved in front for the first time with victory in 17 before wrapping up a 4-2 win against the defending champion.
A checkout of 128 from Beard aided him to a 4-1 victory over Adam Truscott, before Dare ousted Scott Cook 4-1.
White had his supporters on their feet when he edged 2-1 in front of Justin Pipe before the Taunton thrower took the next three in 14, 21 and 13.
Neil Meneer opened with a 12-darter against Rob Collins, before finishing the job in 20, 13 and 17 before Antony Hayman’s hopes of another final were dashed by Ash Sandon-James.
Hayman went 2-1 up in 18 and 15, aided by a kill of 120 but the Bristol marksman was clinical at the business end of the legs and came out a 4-2 winner.
The format now changed to the best of nine and it spurred new life into Shears (30.93) who produced the best average of any Plymouth player when beating Hunt 5-0 in 13, 19, 16, 18 and 15.
Thorning was still enjoying his rejuvenated success and proved once again that his earlier form was no fluke when he twice came from behind to defeat Beard 5-3.
Pipe (31.81) shot into a 3-0 lead in 19, 14 and 17 and although Dare halted the inevitable with a leg in 17, two more legs in 13 and 16 were enough to see the Taunton marksman maintain his favouritism for the title.
Sandon-James (28.68) moved 2-1 in front of Meneer (28.99) either side of a 16-darter with wins in 20 and 15 but two 19-dart legs put the Cornishman in front for the first time.
Sandon-James levelled when winning a 12-dart leg with a kill of 102 but fell behind again when Meneer checked out from 116 for a win in 18.
Again, the Bristolian levelled when taking out a 15-darter, but it was Meneer who had the last call and he made no mistake when finishing in 17 for a win by the narrowest of margins.
Thorning was now into unchartered territory and kept his dreams alive when he took a 2-1 lead over Meneer (29.05) in the first of the semi-finals, but unfortunately his luck ran out and the man from Wadebridge took the remaining legs in 18, 16, 16 and 18.
Thorning had earned himself a lot of new admirers though, and his performance on the day richly deserved him his new status.
SEMI-FINALIST: Rob Thorning was one of only two Plymouth players to make the semi-final of the Plymouth Open, a stark turnaround of fortunes after having never before got passed the first round of any previous Open.
Although Pipe (27.53) had a dip in form, Shears could not take advantage and crashed to a disappointing 5-0 rout, the only highlight coming in the fifth leg when Pipe finished a 15-darter with an outshot of 106.
A grand finale was now in prospect between two players who carry a lot of respect and it was Meneer (29.06) who first opened his account when he won in 16.
Pipe (30.33) levelled in 14, only for Meneer to edge in front again with win in 15.
The Taunton thrower made it all square for the second time when winning in 20 but Meneer moved ahead for the third time with a win in 14 followed by a leg in 15.
Trailing 4-2, Pipe’s title ambitions were now on the line and he started to reduce the deficit when winning in 17 followed by a 15-dart leg which ended with a kill of 116.
Years on the PDC circuit has made Pipe a combatant player and having closed out matches from this position so many times before, this was not going to be any different and two more legs in 14 and 20 was enough for the 46-year-old to claim his first Plymouth Open title.