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Is 2024 the year that Stephen Bunting finally establishes himself amongst the PDC elite?

Stephen Bunting produced an inspired performance to beat Michael van Gerwen and finally clinch his maiden televised PDC title at the 2024 Masters. We take a look at whether it could be the first of many.

Stephen Bunting ends decade long wait for PDC title

- Stephen Bunting 11 - 7 Michael van Gerwen (2024 Masters Final)

Stephen Bunting - featuring in his first televised PDC final since the Sydney Darts Masters 10 years earlier - has enjoyed an impressive resurgence over the last 18 months, and crowned that revival with a superb 11-7 victory over van Gerwen at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena.

‘The Bullet’ 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.

He 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 10 consecutive legs to celebrate a milestone 11-1 win.

However, he saved his best performance for the showpiece final, averaging 102 and landing eight 180s to topple van Gerwen in a pulsating and high-quality final.

- Stephen Bunting ‘lost for words’… 

“I’m lost for words,” Bunting said following his triumph. “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.”
 

Stephen Bunting ends his MVG hoodoo 

- Stephen Bunting’s PDC record against Michael van Gerwen

It’s fair to say that MvG has had Bunting’s number for the past decade, but history meant nothing when the pair met in Milton Keynes.

Van Gerwen, as is the case with many other players on the PDC Tour, boasts a dominant record over his St Helens’ opponent, winning 22 of their previous 25 meetings.

In fact, Bunting had never previously recorded a victory over the Dutch maestro, with his only previous successes coming on the European Tour and PDC Pro Tour.

The St Helens thrower’s 6-4 victory at the Baltic Sea Darts Open, 12 months prior to his Masters success, was his only victory over the three-time world champion in his previous 13 attempts – a run stretching back eight years.

Michael van Gerwen

The pair had met twice previously leading up to the Masters, with MvG edging a tense and dramatic Players Championship Finals quarter-final 10-9 in November; a clash in which the Dutchman reeled off four successive legs in to overturn a 9-6 deficit in.

He averaged a ridiculous 125.8 across those four legs too as he broke the heart of Bunting, who looked in peak condition to launch a full scale assault at his first major televised PDC title.

History repeated itself a few weeks later at the 2024 World Darts Championship too, as Bunting was unable to rediscover the same form that had taken him to the brink of victory at the Players Championship Finals, this time with van Gerwen romping to a 4-0 victory.

However, it proved to be third time lucky for the Bullet…

- Stopping the rot in the Masters final 

The final 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.

Having surrendered his 9-6 lead against the Dutchman in November’s Players Championship Finals, there was thankfully no repeat on this occasion as he wrapped up a famous victory with a 14-darter on tops.
 

Can Stephen Bunting continue to deliver on the big stage?

Well the signs are certainly there to suggest that he can!

Bunting had never previously reached a final of televised PDC major, so the very fact that he has now done that, and subsequently gone on to win it, should fill him with confidence.

His recent Masters triumph came on the back of a turbulent period for the Bullet; one in which he even contemplated retirement from the sport... 

“I was ready for walking away,” he said. “It was awful, I was walking into events and I felt like everyone was laughing at me. I felt like no matter what I was doing everything was going wrong. 

"I was taking it out on my family and locking myself away. I was depressed, it was an awful place to be. Thankfully the psychologist and hypnotist over the last few years have helped. 

"I was totally against it at first but I thought I needed to do something, so I went. He taught me how to think not just about darts, there’s other things than darts, your family, your home life. 

“I know they say in Peter Pan you think about happy stuff and you can fly but it is the same sort of logic in darts. If you turn up and are feeling happy and good then you can win anything; and this is proof of that."

His form has most certainly picked up over the past 12 months however, and whilst his World Darts Championship campaign ended in disappointment against MvG, he did still reach the last 16 of the event for a fifth time in 10 years.

And after a challenging nine years on the tour; it appears as though 2024 could very well be the year of change.

As with Michael Smith in 2022 and Luke Humphries in 2023, there’s absolutely no reason why Bunting shouldn’t follow up his maiden PDC success with more over the coming months.

He's been hitting three-figure averages with far more regularity than he ever has done before, and the very fact that his last four major televised events have yielded a win, a semi-final, a quarter-final and a last 16 appearance proves that Bunting is without doubt moving in the right direction.

Something that will come as a huge relief to both himself and his army of fans, and serve as a warning to the rest PDC.
 

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