Having bowed out from the sport at the back of the 2018 World Championships, Raymond Van Barneveld announced his intention to return to the sport five months ago. After claiming a PDC Tour Card via the “order of merit” at European Qualifying School in Niedernhausen last week, the Dutchman returned to the winner’s circle at only his third attempt defeating Joe Cullen 8-6 in an enthralling final for many reasons.
Taking place at the Bolton Whites Hotel, where Van Barneveld memorably lifted his first PDC title at the 2006 UK Open, the five-time world champion took a gigantic step towards a return to TV stages with triumph moving him within five places of a provisional qualification spot for July’s World Matchplay.
The Dutchman’s last individual success came in the 2014 Premier League, where he defeated Phil Taylor and Michael Van Gerwen on the same night to lift the coveted title.
“I can’t express how happy I am. Today it all went right, I had the focus I never had for the last two or three years,” said Van Barneveld, whose last individual PDC crown came at the 2014 Premier League.
“I was an amateur last week and one week later I’m winning a ProTour, that’s what you can do if you believe in yourself.”
“I was so focused on winning that Tour Card, then I came here to the Super Series and I thought ‘wow, this is another level’ and I asked myself ‘can I do this again?’”
"Yes, of course I can if I believe. It’s all about belief. I have to thank my management team who are making sure I practice every single day, which I’ve never done before in my life. When I came here, I thought ‘this is my place’.”
“Bolton has been good to me. Joe played amazing in the final. He is a class player, and I knew I had to take my chances,” added the decorated Dutchman."
The 53-year-old had managed only just one win in the opening two days of the PDC Super Series, getting knocked out in the first and second round respectively but doubled his tally with a solid 6-3 win over Poland’s Krzysztof Kciuk in the first round on Saturday.
He then claimed a landmark victory over world number 4 Rob Cross with a 100.7 average after being 5-4 down. Van Barneveld had failed to win any of his previous eight meetings against ‘Voltage’, but he survived two match darts to succeed 6-5 in an epic tussle.
‘Barny’ then came through another gruelling last leg shoot-out to dump out Masters runner-up Mervyn King, which he followed up with a stunning 6-1 success over Darius Labanauskas - his Ally Pally conqueror of 2018 - with a 105.7 average against a player who had knocked out Michael Van Gerwen in the previous round.
This set up a last eight showdown against Scottish newcomer Alan Soutar, who had overcome Nathan Aspinall on route to reaching his maiden Pro Tour quarter final. However, a magnificent 170 checkout from Van Barneveld in leg two was the catalyst for a dominant 6-2 victory.
This saw him advance to a semi-final clash against Ian ‘Diamond’ White whose floor game had been outstanding as of late, but was deprived of a place in Saturday’s showpiece by a flourishing Van Barneveld who marched to a 7-3 win with his third ton plus average of the day averaging 100.5.
Fresh from claiming his sixth PDC title on Thursday, Joe Cullen advanced as the top seed with the early withdrawal of Gerwyn Price who had been suffering with an ear infection since arriving at Bolton.
A gripping final between the two former postmen began with ‘The Rockstar’ delivered the goods in the early stages firing a hat-trick of 13-darters to take three of the first four legs, leading 3-1.
Van Barneveld, who had won the pair’s last four meetings, responded in kind, taking three of the next four, the rest of which saw him ping double 16 to level at 4-4 after Cullen wired double top for a 160 checkout.
The Bradford ace who was chasing his second title in three days regained the initiative finding the bullseye for a 119 checkout to break throw, but Van Barneveld once again hit back with a stunning 144 checkout to turn the tide and level once more.
The tension was tangible as both players showed fragility when missed doubles crept in, but it was the 53-year-old who held it together best on the outer ring as ‘RvB’ took out a clinical two-dart 80 finish to go within a leg of the title at 7-6.
A dramatic 14th leg saw Cullen squander seven double attempts to force a last-leg decider, allowing Van Barneveld to eventually find a match-winning double three at the seventh attempt to clinch glory.
It ended a run of eight consecutive defeats in individual finals for the doyen of Dutch darts, whilst the winner’s prize of £10,000 put’s him in great stead for a return to televised tournaments where he belongs.
A spectacular story for one of the sports most prestigious players.