PHIL Taylor began his bid for a 13th Blackpool title in the Betfair World Matchplay by overcoming the determined challenge of Mervyn King at the Winter Gardens last night.
The reigning champion won a tight first-round clash 10-8, sharing the opening ten legs before establishing a 7-5 cushion – only for King to hit back and level at 8-8.
King, who hit eight 180s, crucially missed three darts to lead as Taylor edged 9-8 up, then sealed the win on double top.
Taylor said: “I was nervous but I got the job done and I’m through. Mervyn was probably the better player through the game. He hit loads of 180s but he missed some crucial doubles.”
As well as bidding to win a fifth successive World Matchplay title for the second time, Taylor is battling to keep hold of his status as world no.1, with Adrian Lewis poised to take over at the top of the PDC Order of Merit.
“The pressure’s building a bit,” admits Taylor. “People keep reminding me that Adrian can be no.1.
“If he does that, I’ll be the proudest person in the world and also the unhappiest. I can’t knock him for what he’s doing.
“He’s getting everything he deserves at the moment and it’s a big challenge for me this week.”
Taylor will now play Stoke’s Ian White in the second round on Thursday, after the Blackpool debutant enjoyed a ‘dream’ first appearance on the Winter Gardens stage with a 10-5 win over Vincent van der Voort.
White won four of the opening five legs and hit finishes of 161 and 164 during a fine performance.
“It’s a brilliant victory for me,” said White. “I’ve got to take each game at a time, and it will be nice to play Phil. If I can take out those sort of finishes against him, who knows what will happen?”
The night’s other winners were Andy Hamilton and Mark Webster, who will now clash in the last-16 on Thursday.
Hamilton, a semi-finalist 12 months ago, battled past Brendan Dolan 10-7, while Webster overcame 2005 champion Colin Lloyd 10-6.
Webster said: “That was a real battle against a player who’s in some good form, but I think I deserved the win.
“I’ve not been playing brilliant darts recently and I’m a bit down on my confidence, but I tried not to get frustrated.
“Now I’ve got three days to prepare to play Andy. He’s a brilliant player and has a great attitude, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The first round of the £400,000 tournament concludes tonight.