Cullen wins first PDC ranking title of 2021 – The Pro Tour is Back
The PDC Pro Tour has returned for the 2021 season with a fresh influx of Tour Card Holders, Joe Cullen picked up his second consecutive Players Championship title defeated on-form Jonny Clayton in a nail-biting final.
Cullen’s darting renaissance since switching manufacturers to Winmau continued, with more dazzling performances throughout the tournament with his new darts.
The Yorkshireman faced close friend, and recent crowned Ladbrokes Masters champion, Jonny Clayton in what was a tightly contested final.
Jonny himself has also been on red-hot form in recent months and showed the quality that has earned him a Premier League spot, averaging a spectacular 109.6 in his semi-final win over Jon Worsley.
The final itself was tight, back and forth affair which didn’t flatter in the averages but more than made up for it as a contest, Joe sealing the win on D10 in the deciding leg.
"Winning the first tournament is a perfect start to what I believe will be a big year for me," said Cullen.
"It wasn't the best final. It's hard playing against Jonny because he's a great friend and he's got such a relaxed attitude about the game.
"Previously when I've felt uncomfortable in games I've been beaten, but lately I feel like I've got a chance of winning games even when I'm playing badly. It's a brilliant feeling to have.
"I've been putting the work in. I gave myself a week-and-a-half off after Ally Pally and then got back on the practice board, so I'm pleased it's paying off."
Fresh from his winning The Ladbrokes Masters in January and his subsequent selection for the 2021 Unibet Premier League, Clayton was seeking back-to-back titles and made a good start by taking the opening two legs.
Cullen responded by winning the next three, but a typically tight contest saw the pair stay within a leg of one another until leg 12 as Cullen found double ten for a 16-dart leg to lead 7-5.
Clayton landed a pressure 108 checkout to break straight back before making no mistake on double seven to send the contest to a last-leg decider.
Strong scoring on throw from Cullen saw him leave 90 after nine darts, but four missed doubles for the match gave Clayton an outside chance of stealing the win.
However, Cullen denied the Welshman a chance to take out 56, finding the match-winning double ten at the sixth attempt to seal the £10,000 prize.
Cullen defeated Premier League star Nathan Aspinall 7-4 in the semi-finals, having secured victories over Ryan Meikle, Ryan Murray, Scott Waites, Chris Dobey and Gabriel Clemens to reach the last four.
The opening day of 2021 ProTour action also saw Michael Smith hit the first nine-darter of the year in Players Championship competition in his 6-3 round one win over Belgium's new Tour Card Holder Geert De Vos.
Dutch legend Raymond van Barneveld made his highly-anticipated return to action against Stephen Bunting, but despite recovering from 5-1 down to force a last-leg shoot out, the five-time World Champion was unable to complete the comeback.
One of the day's most eye-catching results saw 19-year-old Welsh prospect Lewis Williams defeat Van Gerwen 6-5 in round three, while newly-crowned World Champion and world number one Gerwyn Price was knocked out in the second round by Gary Anderson.
Welshman Jon Worsley marked his return to the professional circuit with his first run to the semi-finals of a senior PDC ranking event, having immediately won back his Tour Card at Qualifying School last week.
Irish teenager Keane Barry, meanwhile, recorded wins over Glen Durrant and Ian White on his way to reaching the last 16 on his debut as a Tour Card Holder.
Super Series 1 continues on Friday with Players Championship 2 as the 128 players compete for a further £75,000 in prize money.
Live action will be broadcast across two streams on PDCTV - subscription options include a £1.99 One-Day Pass or a £4.99 Three-Day Pass.
2021 Players Championship 1
Thursday February 25
Rob Cross 6-2 Gary Anderson
Nathan Aspinall 6-2 Jelle Klaasen
Joe Cullen 6-5 Chris Dobey
Gabriel Clemens 6-3 Keane Barry
Jonny Clayton 6-3 Lewis Williams
James Wade 6-5 Krzysztof Ratajski
Jon Worsley 6-3 Damon Heta
Michael Smith 6-3 Ted Evetts
Nathan Aspinall 6-5 Rob Cross
Joe Cullen 6-4 Gabriel Clemens
Jonny Clayton 6-2 James Wade
Jon Worsley 6-5 Michael Smith
Joe Cullen 7-4 Nathan Aspinall
Jonny Clayton 7-0 Jon Worsley
Joe Cullen 8-7 Jonny Clayton