Defending champion Gary Anderson wins on night one of the Betfred World Matchplay at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens
Stephen Bunting snatched sudden-death glory against Gerwyn Price on the opening night of the Betfred World Matchplay as Gary Anderson began his title defence in Blackpool by seeing off Danny Noppert.
St Helens ace Bunting took victory in a thrilling first round tie at the Winter Gardens as he edged Welshman Price 13-12 to claim his first win in the event for five years.
Grand Slam of Darts champion Price had enjoyed the advantage throughout much of an epic contest, taking early leads of 3-0 and 4-1 and maintaining a two-leg cushion at 8-6.
Bunting hit back to level with two successive legs, and the next six legs were shared as the game went into a tie-break and left the pair locked at 11-all.
Bunting then took out 85 on the bull to lead for the first time, only to miss four match darts in leg 24 as Price hit back to post double 10 and send the game into a one-leg shootout.
Price opened the final leg with a 180, but missed one dart at the bull for victory before Bunting stepped in to finish 79 on double 11 to take a remarkable win.
Reigning champion Anderson opened his bid to retain the Phil Taylor Trophy with a 10-6 defeat of Dutch debutant Danny Noppert.
Anderson capitalised on a sluggish start from Noppert to win the opening four legs without reply, and also took out finishes of 135 on the bull and 111 to move 7-3 up.
Noppert pulled back to 7-6 at one stage, but Anderson won a crucial 14th leg and took out a huge 160 finish to lead 9-6 before closing out the win.
Anderson will now meet Mervyn King in round two, after the 2009 semi-finalist overcame 13th seed Nathan Aspinall 10-5 in a see-saw opening fixture in Blackpool.
King stormed out of the blocks to win four of the opening five legs in a superb start to the contest, landing five 180s, a 104 finish, an 85 combination on the bull and a 12-darter along the way.
Recent US Darts Masters winner Aspinall then hit back with four straight legs, which included a 127 checkout, as he hauled himself back into the game and then moved 5-4 up.
King, though, levelled with a 14-darter and then produced a hammer blow with a 160 checkout to regain the lead at 6-5.
Missed doubles in the next three legs from UK Open champion Aspinall were punished by the Norfolk ace as King opened up a 9-5 cushion before a superb 11-darter completed a fine win.
King averaged just over 100 and finished 10 doubles from 16 attempts in a clinical display as he won past the first round for the first time since 2016.
The 2018 world champion, Rob Cross, powered into the last 16 with a 10-3 defeat of Chris Dobey, who never recovered from a slow start on his Blackpool debut.
Cross moved 3-0 up and responded to a Dobey 14-darter with two of his own and a 12-dart leg as he moved into a 6-1 advantage.
Dobey finished 145 to hit back in leg eight, but Cross fired in six perfect darts as he restored his advantage before pulling away to seal victory with a 130 checkout.
The first round continues on Sunday with a double session at the Winter Gardens, which includes two-time champion Michael van Gerwen up against Steve Beaton and 2007 winner James Wade taking on 2018 semi-finalist Jeffrey de Zwaan.
Two-time world champion Adrian Lewis takes on three-time Lakeside champion Glen Durrant in an eagerly-awaited tie, while 2018 finalist Suljovic plays Jermaine Wattimena.
The afternoon session opens as Darren Webster takes on Polish debutant Krzysztof Ratajski, before Dave Chisnall meets Max Hopp, Ian White takes on Joe Cullen and Michael Smith clashes with debutant Jamie Hughes.