Grand Slam Day 1: Buntz’ Bow and Beau Goes Close

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The USA’s Stowe Buntz produced a huge upset on the opening day of the 2023 Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts, the colourful American’s stunning display dispatched world number two Peter Wright on his televised bow in Wolverhampton.

Buntz, who sealed his Grand Slam qualification with victory in last month’s CDC Continental Cup, turned on the style in a colourful clash against European Champion Wright to cap off a dream TV debut.

The unheralded American fired in a sensational tops-tops 137 finish and took out 116 to race into a three-leg lead, before wrapping up a landmark 5-1 victory with a 13-dart hold.

“I don’t know what to say,” admitted a shell-shocked Buntz, who averaged 102.28 to defeat his darting idol.

“It is phenomenal – Peter Wright’s a two-time World Champion. He is a big inspiration for me, hence the [colourful] attire.

“To play against one of my idols, it’s like playing against Michael Jordan if you’re a basketball fan. I’m sure my phone is going to be blowing up after this!”

Day One of the £650,000 event saw a double session of action take place at WV Active Aldersley, as reigning champion Michael Smith kicked off the defence of his title with a 5-2 victory over Nathan Girvan in Group A.

Smith, who defeated Nathan Aspinall to lift the Eric Bristow Trophy last year, averaged almost 99 to topple Scottish debutant Girvan and celebrate a 17th consecutive group stage victory at the Grand Slam.

“I love this event – I owe a lot to the Grand Slam, and hopefully it keeps being kind to me,” said Smith, who is bidding to become the fourth player to retain the coveted title.

“I’m really happy to be back. It’s the first time I’ve had to defend a TV title so there were a few butterflies, but I’m happy with how I performed.

“My scoring was great and my finishing was there when I needed it. I’m aware of my record [in the group stage], but I’m only focused on trying to top the group.”

Three-time champions Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price also made winning starts in Wolverhampton, storming to 5-1 victories over Fallon Sherrock and Nathan Rafferty respectively.

Van Gerwen began his bid for a fourth Grand Slam crown with a 5-1 thumping of Sherrock in Group G, averaging 101.30 to sink the 2021 quarter-finalist, who registered three 180s in defeat.

Price was equally dominant in his six-leg blitz of Rafferty, running out an emphatic winner in an entertaining Group D contest which saw the pair trade 164 and 167 combination finishes.

The Welshman now faces Ryan Searle in his second round-robin tie on Sunday, after the Somerset star produced an astonishing fightback from 4-0 down to stun debutant Gian van Veen, surviving six missed match darts in the process.

Elsewhere, World Matchplay champion Aspinall defied five 180s and a brace of ton-plus checkouts from a brilliant Beau Greaves to triumph in a deciding-leg thriller in Group H.

Women’s World Matchplay champion Greaves converted 101 and 124 finishes to seize the early initiative, but following a run of eight consecutive holds, Aspinall sank a nerveless 98 finish to deny the debutant.

“I have to give credit to Beau – she was the player in pot four that nobody wanted,” claimed Aspinall, the runner-up to Smith last year.

“Beau completely outscored me in that match. She was fantastic; she’s a credit to the women’s game and a credit to darts as a whole.”

Aspinall added: “I have shown again what I am capable of. I wasn’t anywhere near my best, but I dug deep and whatever was thrown at me, I managed to find a way to win.”

In the other Group H tie, Damon Heta defeated Ricardo Pietreczko in similar fashion, producing a 150 skin-saver in the penultimate leg, before surviving a match dart from the German newcomer in a dramatic decider.

Luke Humphries and Gary Anderson will collide in a blockbuster tussle on Sunday evening, after overcoming Steve Lennon and Dirk van Duijvenbode in their respective Group C tussles.

World Grand Prix champion Humphries posted the first ton-plus average of the tournament in his 5-2 demolition of Lennon, with a 147 checkout in leg five the highlight of his victory.

Anderson, meanwhile, overcame a struggling Van Duijvenbode in a contest dominated by missed doubles, rallying from 4-2 down to triumph with finishes of 84, 74 and 76 in the latter stages.

Earlier in the day, Jonny Clayton recovered from a sluggish start to see off the returning Berry van Peer in his Group B opener, reeling off five straight legs to complete a convincing 5-2 success.

The Welshman’s reward is a showdown against 2022 World Youth Champion Josh Rock, who defeated Masters champion Chris Dobey by the same scoreline, aided by 106 and 110 checkouts.

Danny Noppert and Andrew Gilding – the last two UK Open champions – will collide in Group F on Sunday, after kicking off their campaigns with hard-fought 5-3 wins against Haruki Muramatsu and Brendan Dolan respectively.

Noppert landed 86, 109 and 161 finishes to defeat PDC Asian Champion Muramatsu, while reigning UK Open champion Gilding fended off a late rally from Dolan to prevail on his Wolverhampton return.

Sunday’s double session will see Saturday’s winning players facing off and the losing players also meeting each other, as Smith continues his title challenge against Poland’s number one Krzysztof Ratajski.

Ratajski edged out three-time runner-up James Wade in Saturday evening’s opener, beginning the match with 112 and 120 outshots before firing in a sublime 11-darter to prevail in a high-quality last leg.

Van Gerwen will face Rob Cross in his next Group G clash, after the 2018 World Champion recovered from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to defeat Dutch debutant Martijn Kleermaker with a 96 average.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s headline act Buntz will play a resurgent Stephen Bunting, who denied Dave Chisnall in another nine-leg affair, pinning five of his seven double attempts to defy a 99 average from the 2014 runner-up.

The Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).

2023 Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts

Saturday November 11
Afternoon Session
Group Stage x8 – Groups B-D-F-H First Matches
Damon Heta 5-4 Ricardo Pietreczko (H)
Andrew Gilding 5-3 Brendan Dolan (F)
Ryan Searle 5-4 Gian van Veen (D)
Josh Rock 5-2 Chris Dobey (B)
Danny Noppert 5-3 Haruki Muramatsu (F)
Nathan Aspinall 5-4 Beau Greaves (H)
Jonny Clayton 5-2 Berry van Peer (B)
Gerwyn Price 5-1 Nathan Rafferty (D)

Evening Session
Group Stage x8 – Groups A-C-E-G First Matches
Krzysztof Ratajski 5-4 James Wade (A)
Rob Cross 5-4 Martijn Kleermaker (G)
Stephen Bunting 5-4 Dave Chisnall (E)
Gary Anderson 5-4 Dirk van Duijvenbode (C)
Luke Humphries 5-2 Steve Lennon (C)
Stowe Buntz 5-1 Peter Wright (E)
Michael van Gerwen 5-1 Fallon Sherrock (G)
Michael Smith 5-2 Nathan Girvan (A)

Sunday November 12
Afternoon Session (1300-1700 GMT)
Group Stage x8 – Groups B-D-F-H Second Matches
Gian van Veen v Nathan Rafferty (D)
Brendan Dolan v Haruki Muramatsu (F)
Chris Dobey v Berry van Peer (B)
Danny Noppert v Andrew Gilding (F)
Gerwyn Price v Ryan Searle (D)
Ricardo Pietreczko v Beau Greaves (H)
Nathan Aspinall v Damon Heta (H)
Jonny Clayton v Josh Rock (B)

Evening Session (1900-2300 GMT)
Group Stage x8 – Groups A-C-E-G Second Matches
Dirk van Duijvenbode v Steve Lennon (C)
James Wade v Nathan Girvan (A)
Peter Wright v Dave Chisnall (E)
Martijn Kleermaker v Fallon Sherrock (G)
Stephen Bunting v Stowe Buntz (E)
Michael van Gerwen v Rob Cross (G)
Michael Smith v Krzysztof Ratajski (A)
Luke Humphries v Gary Anderson (C)


Images: Kieran Cleeves/PDC


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