Brilliant Buntz stuns Peter Wright on the opening day of the Grand Slam
On the first day of the 2023 Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts, Stowe Buntz pulled off a major upset by defeating world number two Peter Wright in his televised bow in Wolverhampton with an incredible display.
After winning the CDC Continental Cup last month, Buntz qualified for the Grand Slam. To top off an incredible TV debut, he went all out in a spectacular match against European Champion Wright.
The underappreciated American raced into a three-leg lead with a spectacular tops-tops 137 finish and eliminated 116 before sealing a historic 5-1 victory with a 13-dart hold.
“I don’t know what to say,” admitted a shell-shocked Buntz, who averaged 102.28 to defeat his darting idol.
“It is phenomenal – Peter Wright’s a two-time World Champion. He is a big inspiration for me, hence the [colourful] attire.
“To play against one of my idols, it’s like playing against Michael Jordan if you’re a basketball fan. I’m sure my phone is going to be blowing up after this!”
On the first day of the £650,000 competition, there were two sessions held at WV Active Aldersley. Michael Smith, the current champion, began his title defence with a 5-2 victory over Nathan Girvan in Group A.
Smith, who won the Eric Bristow Trophy over Nathan Aspinall the previous year, overcame Scottish rookie Girvan with an average of nearly 99 to win the Grand Slam group stage for the 17th time in a row.
“I love this event – I owe a lot to the Grand Slam, and hopefully it keeps being kind to me,” said Smith, who is bidding to become the fourth player to retain the coveted title.
“I’m really happy to be back. It’s the first time I’ve had to defend a TV title so there were a few butterflies, but I’m happy with how I performed.
“My scoring was great and my finishing was there when I needed it. I’m aware of my record [in the group stage], but I’m only focused on trying to top the group.”
In Wolverhampton, three-time champions Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price both got off to strong starts, defeating Fallon Sherrock and Nathan Rafferty, respectively, 5-1.
With a 5-1 victory over Sherrock in Group G, Van Gerwen started his quest for a fourth Grand Slam title. He averaged 101.30 to down the 2021 quarterfinalist, who recorded three 180s in the loss.
Price dominated Rafferty in his six-leg blitz as well, emerging victorious in an exciting Group D match that saw the two exchange 164 and 167 combination finishes.
Sunday is the Welshman’s second round-robin clash against Ryan Searle. Earlier in the day, the Somerset star stunned newcomer Gian van Veen with an incredible comeback from a 4-0 deficit, surviving six missed match darts along the way.
In other news, World Matchplay champion Aspinall won a thrilling deciding-leg match in Group H after overcoming five 180s and two ton-plus checkouts from an outstanding Beau Greaves.
Women’s World Matchplay champion Greaves took the early lead with finishes of 101 and 124, but Aspinall denied the rookie with a composed 98 finish after eight straight holds.
“I have to give credit to Beau – she was the player in pot four that nobody wanted,” claimed Aspinall, the runner-up to Smith last year.
“Beau completely outscored me in that match. She was fantastic; she’s a credit to the women’s game and a credit to darts as a whole.”
Aspinall added: “I have shown again what I am capable of. I wasn’t anywhere near my best, but I dug deep and whatever was thrown at me, I managed to find a way to win.”
Similar to how he had defeated Ricardo Pietreczko in the earlier Group H encounter, Damon Heta produced a 150 skin-saver in the last leg and survived a match dart from the German newcomer in a thrilling decider.
Gary Anderson and Luke Humphries will square off in a thrilling match on Sunday night, following their victories over Steve Lennon and Dirk van Duijvenbode in their respective Group C bouts.
World Grand Prix winner Humphries defeated Lennon 5-2, recording the first ton-plus average of the competition. The pinnacle of his victory came with a 147 checkout in leg five.
In a match characterised by mishandled doubles, Anderson, on the other hand, defeated a struggling Van Duijvenbode, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to win with finishes of 84, 74, and 76 in the closing moments.
Earlier in the day, Jonny Clayton overcame a slow start to defeat Berry van Peer in his Group B debut, winning five of the six legs he needed to secure a decisive 5-2 victory.
The Welshman’s prize is a matchup with Josh Rock, the 2022 World Youth Champion, who overcame Masters champion Chris Dobey with the help of 106 and 110 checkouts.
The last two UK Open champions, Danny Noppert and Andrew Gilding, will square off in Group F on Sunday after slugging hard-fought 5-3 victories over Brendan Dolan and Haruki Muramatsu, respectively, to start their campaigns.
Noppert defeated PDC Asian Champion Muramatsu with finishes of 86, 109, and 161, and defending UK Open champion Gilding held off a late rally from Dolan to seal the points on his return to the Slam.
In Sunday’s double session, Smith will play Poland’s top player, Krzysztof Ratajski, again in an attempt to retain his title. The losing players will also play each other.
In the first game on Saturday night, Ratajski defeated three-time runner-up James Wade. Ratajski started the game with 112 and 120 outshots before putting in an incredible 11-darter to win the decisive leg.
In his second Group G match, Van Gerwen will take on Rob Cross. The 2018 World Champion overcame 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to overcome Dutch rookie Martijn Kleermaker with an average of 96.
Buntz, the featured act on Saturday, will portray a resurgent Stephen Bunting, who defeated Dave Chisnall in a nine-leg match by pinning five of his seven double tries to overcome a 99-shot deficit.
Damon Heta 5-4 Ricardo Pietreczko (H)
Andrew Gilding 5-3 Brendan Dolan (F)
Ryan Searle 5-4 Gian van Veen (D)
Josh Rock 5-2 Chris Dobey (B)
Danny Noppert 5-3 Haruki Muramatsu (F)
Nathan Aspinall 5-4 Beau Greaves (H)
Jonny Clayton 5-2 Berry van Peer (B)
Gerwyn Price 5-1 Nathan Rafferty (D)
Group Stage x8 – Groups A-C-E-G First Matches
Krzysztof Ratajski 5-4 James Wade (A)
Rob Cross 5-4 Martijn Kleermaker (G)
Stephen Bunting 5-4 Dave Chisnall (E)
Gary Anderson 5-4 Dirk van Duijvenbode (C)
Luke Humphries 5-2 Steve Lennon (C)
Stowe Buntz 5-1 Peter Wright (E)
Michael van Gerwen 5-1 Fallon Sherrock (G)
Michael Smith 5-2 Nathan Girvan (A)