Wednesday 3 September 2014

 
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Phil Taylor

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Phil "The Power" Taylor

THE greatest player ever to throw a dart, Taylor exploded onto the darts scene at the end of the 1980's and has rewritten the history books since, with his achievements headlined by an unrivalled 15 World Championship wins.

A protege of five-time World Champion Eric Bristow, he picked up his first major title at the 1990 Embassy Championship with a 6-1 thrashing of his mentor.

He also added the 1990 World Masters title before picking up a second World Championship two years later in one of darts' greatest matches against Mike Gregory.

Since the formation of the PDC, Taylor has dominated professional darts and picked up an unparalleled number of titles, with his achievements leading to him being compared to the likes of Mohammed Ali, Sir Donald Bradman and Lance Armstrong as a sporting great.

Eleven victories at the Circus Tavern - following a loss to Dennis Priestley in the inaugural PDC World Championship in 1994 - plus two World Championship wins at Alexandra Palace have been complemented by success every other major tournaments.

He claimed a first World Matchplay title in 1995 and also won the title in 1997 before being unbeaten at the Winter Gardens from 2000 to 2004 to claim five successive titles.

Taylor's rivalry with Priestley saw him repay the Yorkshireman for that 1994 World Championship loss many times over in major finals - winning the World Championship deciders between the duo in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000 as well as the 1995 World Matchplay final.

The new Millennium saw the emergence of a new challenger to his throne, John Part, with Taylor coming out on top in one World Championship final, one World Matchplay decider and two World Grand Prix finals and the Canadian claiming a 7-6 win in the 2003 World Championship.

Taylor regained the World Championship title 12 months later, coming from 4-1 down to win in a sudden-death leg against Kevin Painter in arguably the sport's best-ever game.

The introduction of the double-start World Grand Prix in 1998 saw Taylor win that event for five of the first seven years, only losing in 2001 and 2004 in the first round to Painter and Andy Callaby.

He was also the Las Vegas Desert Classic champion in 2002 and 2004, and he won the first-ever UK Open in 2003 before being the unbeaten victor in the inaugural Premier League Darts in 2005.

Taylor's place in the record books had also been assured after he hit the first live nine-dart leg on Sky Sports during the 2002 World Matchplay - a feat he repeated in both the 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 UK Open and in the 2007 International Darts League, and he was unbeaten for two years in a televised match from 1999 to 2001.

2005 also saw Taylor retain his World Championship title by defeating Mark Dudbridge, and claim a second UK Open and a third Las Vegas Desert Classic, before Part ended his bid for a clean sweep of honours with a defeat in the World Matchplay, although he bounced back to win the World Grand Prix against defending champion Colin Lloyd.

Taylor then went on to retain the World Championship with a 7-0 defeat of Peter Manley at the Circus Tavern in January 2006 to claim his 13th crown, but that year saw the arrival of another new challenger to his throne - Holland's Raymond van Barneveld.

After retaining the Premier League crown - again unbeaten - and then winning the first World Series of Darts, he lost twice to van Barneveld, in the UK Open and Las Vegas Desert Classic.

However, he recaptured the World Matchplay title in the summer of 2006 by seeing off James Wade in Blackpool to take the trophy back to Stoke for an eighth time and also retained the World Grand Prix by defeating Terry Jenkins.

Van Barneveld inflicted another defeat on Taylor in a dramatic 2007 World Championship final, the Dutchman overturning a 3-0 deficit before winning a sudden-death leg and taking the title.

Although Taylor won the Premier League for a third successive year, once again being unbeaten in the event, he also lost once more to van Barneveld in the UK Open, and then went out in the Las Vegas Desert Classic at the first round stage against Mark Dudbridge and to Terry Jenkins in the World Matchplay semi-finals.

A loss to Adrian Gray in the World Grand Prix, for a third time in the event at the first round stage, was followed by a quarter-final exit to Wayne Mardle in the World Championship - the first time in the PDC event he had failed to reach the final - and even victories during the autumn of 2007 in the inaugural Grand Slam of Darts and German Darts Championship failed to prevent talk that Taylor's power may be on the wane.

His defeat in the opening game of the 2008 Premier League, to James Wade, was his first ever in the history of the tournament, and two more in his opening four games left Taylor second bottom in the table.

But a change of darts marked an incredible turnaround, with an 8-0 whitewash of Wayne Mardle followed by nine successive wins which saw him top the league table and then take play-off glory against Wade.

Taylor also won six successive PDC Pro Tour events in the spring of 2008, and hit a nine-darter during a Players Championship in Germany, which was followed by a fourth perfect leg in the UK Open before he suffered a third successive quarter-final loss to van Barneveld in Bolton.

Wade was also defeated in the finals of the Las Vegas Desert Classic and the World Matchplays as Taylor regained the number one position in the PDC Order of Merit in the summer of 2008.

He went on to win an eighth World Grand Prix in the autumn, as well as retaining his Grand Slam of Darts title and taking victory in the inaugural Championship League Darts and European Championship events.

Although Taylor was victorious in another five straight Players Championships in the second half of the year, he lost in the final of the German Darts Championship to Co Stompe - only to avenge that in the 2009 World Championship.

The clash with Stompe came at the quarter-final stage, with Steve Grubb, Michael van Gerwen and Kevin Painter already defeated. Mervyn King was Taylor's semi-final victim before he defeated van Barneveld 7-1 to claim a 14th World Championship, having dropped only four sets in the tournament and averaged a record 110 in the final.

His run of form continued into the early part of 2009, with victory in the inaugural Players Championship event at the Circus Tavern, where he defeated Robert Thornton in the final of the new televised event.

His reign in the Premier League Darts was ended in May 2009, losing to Mervyn King in the semi-finals after topping the league table for a fifth successive year.

However, he bounced back to win the UK Open for a fourth time, overcoming Colin Osborne in the final, and then take a fifth Las Vegas Desert Classic with victory against Raymond van Barneveld.

The summer of 2009 saw Taylor claim his tenth World Matchplay title, overcoming Terry Jenkins 18-4 with a record winning margin at the Winter Gardens, having also twice averaged 109 earlier in the event.

He returned to action in September in Championship League Darts, before retaining his South African Masters title in Johannesburg with a victory over James Wade in the final at Emperors Palace.

A Players Championship win in Dublin was followed by a ninth World Grand Prix title in October, with a 6-3 comeback victory over Raymond van Barneveld, after he was initially 2-0 down, maintaining Taylor's record of holding all major ranking titles at once.

Taylor then claimed a second successive European Championship - hitting a then record average for a major championship of 118 against Gary Anderson during the event - and also won a Players Championship in Killarney before retaining the Grand Slam of Darts title in November with victory over Scott Waites in the final in Wolverhampton.

Taylor also won back the German Darts Championship title, defeating Mervyn King in the final to take his prize money for 2009 beyond £750,000 and add a 22nd tournament win of the year to his CV.

He then went on to win yet another World Championship, his 15th, with victory in the 2010 event at Alexandra Palace, overcoming Australian Simon Whitlock 7-3 in the final following another imperious display throughout the event.

While Paul Nicholson knocked him out in the semi-finals of the Players Championship Finals, Taylor's challenge to regain the Premier League Darts crown saw him create further history by hitting two nine-dart finishes in the final against James Wade, being the first player to achieve that feat and also to land a perfect leg in a televised final.

Further success in the UK Open - defeating Gary Anderson in the final after recording another 118 average, against Kevin Painter - and World Matchplay, where he overcame van Barneveld, followed as he retained those titles, and a third successive European Championship win in August 2010 proved to be his last major title of the year.

Adrian Lewis ended his World Grand Prix hopes, while Steve Beaton denied him in the Grand Slam of Darts and Mark Webster knocked him out of the World Championship, as Taylor endured an unusual barren spell.

Taylor returned to form in the early part of 2011, though, edging out Anderson again to win the Players Championship Finals trophy back, and then seeing off van Barneveld in the RTL7 International Masters in Holland during his bid for a sixth Premier League Darts title.

However, that aim was ended with a semi-final defeat to Lewis in the Premier League, and Paul Nicholson's final-leg victory in the last 16 of the UK Open saw another title slip from Taylor's grasp before he returned to defend his World Matchplay title in July 2011.

Mark Hylton, Wayne Jones, Wes Newton and Andy Hamilton were defeated as Taylor reached a fourth straight final, before claiming his 12th World Matchplay victory with an 18-8 win over James Wade.

The winning feeling continued as Taylor then won the European Championship for a fourth successive year, this time defeating Lewis in the final after also seeing off Nicholson in the quarter-finals.

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