Stephen Bunting produced an inspired performance to defeat Michael van Gerwen and clinch his maiden televised PDC title in Sunday’s Cazoo Masters final in Milton Keynes.
Bunting – featuring in his first televised PDC final since the 2014 Sydney Darts Masters – has enjoyed an impressive resurgence over the last 18 months, and crowned that revival with a superb 11-7 victory over Van Gerwen at the Marshall Arena.
Bunting had recovered from 5-2 down to deny Ross Smith in Friday’s first round, and he produced a quartet of ton-plus checkouts to topple World Champion Luke Humphries in Saturday’s second round.
The former Lakeside Champion continued his clinical combination finishing on Finals Day, sweeping aside Peter Wright and Nathan Aspinall in emphatic style.
Bunting produced 104, 121 and 122 checkouts to dispatch 2020 champion Wright 10-2 in Sunday’s opening quarter-final, averaging almost 101 to send the Scottish veteran packing.
The 38-year-old then put in another dominant display to demolish World Matchplay champion Aspinall, reeling off ten consecutive legs to celebrate a milestone 11-1 win.
However, he saved his best performance for Sunday’s showpiece, averaging 102 and landing eight 180s to topple Van Gerwen in a high-quality final.
“I’m lost for words,” admitted an emotional Bunting, who had only won four of his previous 26 meetings against the three-time World Champion.
“To do it front of a crowd that were chanting my name from the minute I stepped foot in Milton Keynes means so much to me.
“I’m really happy. This just shows my hard work is paying off, and it’s a great start to the season. Hopefully I can push on from this.
“My main aim when I moved over from the BDO was to win big titles, but you’re playing the best of the best, and you’re going to be pushed all the way.
“Michael is a multiple World Champion. He’s a fantastic player. I’ve beaten Luke Humphries this weekend, and I’ve beaten Peter Wright and Nathan Aspinall – all Premier League players.
“That is where I want to get my game back to so let’s see what happens in the future, but I really think I deserve this trophy.”
Sunday’s decider began with five comfortable holds of throw, which included Bunting pinning an 81 combination on the bull for a 12-darter in leg five.
Following two further holds, Bunting secured the game’s first break of throw in leg eight, converting a two-dart 88 finish to move 5-3 ahead inside 11 darts.
The Merseyside man then created a three-leg buffer with a crucial 83 finish on the bull, although Van Gerwen responded superbly with three straight legs of his own – including a double-double 92 – to level at six apiece.
The pair exchanged holds before Bunting edged back ahead, following up a terrific 177 set-up shot by rounding off a 13-dart hold on tops to make it 8-7.
Bunting extended his lead after Van Gerwen squandered three darts to restore parity at 8-8, before firing in back-to-back 180s and completing an 11-dart hold to move to the cusp of glory at 10-7.
The St Helens star did surrender a 9-6 lead against the Dutchman in November’s Players Championship Finals, but there was no repeat on this occasion as he wrapped up a famous victory with a 14-darter on tops.
Despite missing out on a record-extending sixth Masters crown, it was another positive weekend for Van Gerwen, just over a week since he lifted the Dutch Darts Masters title on home soil in Den Bosch.
The world number two relinquished just ten legs in reaching Sunday’s finale, having kicked off his campaign with a 10-4 victory against reigning champion Chris Dobey.
The Dutch superstar overcame two-time runner-up Dave Chisnall by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals, averaging 102 and pinning ten of his 16 attempts at double.
In the semi-finals, Van Gerwen recorded an 11-2 thumping of Dimitri Van den Bergh, conjuring up a 148 checkout to round off another comprehensive win over the Belgian.
“Fair play to Stephen, he played really well throughout the tournament,” claimed a gracious Van Gerwen, who walked away with the £30,000 runner-up prize.
“I think just before the last break, I was playing a little bit better than him, but I couldn’t make the difference.
“He kept producing the 140s and he put me under a lot of pressure. He has worked really hard for this, and it’s a nice moment for him.
“There is lots more to come from me, but I am not in form yet. I’m still struggling here and there.
“I know I can do a lot better, but I want to give Stephen the credit because he had a really good tournament.”
Earlier in the day, Van den Bergh ran out a 10-7 winner against Damon Heta, despite the Australian number one crashing in six 180s and two ton-plus outshots.
In the other quarter-final tie, Aspinall defied a profligate display to edge out Daryl Gurney in a topsy-turvy affair, rallying from 8-6 adrift to seal a place in his first televised semi-final since September.
2024 Cazoo Masters
Sunday February 4
Stephen Bunting 10-2 Peter Wright
Nathan Aspinall 10-9 Daryl Gurney
Michael van Gerwen 10-4 Dave Chisnall
Dimitri Van den Bergh 10-7 Damon Heta
Stephen Bunting 11-1 Nathan Aspinall
Michael van Gerwen 11-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Stephen Bunting 11-7 Michael van Gerwen