ROBERT THORNTON stunned Michael van Gerwen with a scintillating 5-4 victory to claim the partypoker.com World Grand Prix title in the most thrilling final in the history of the tournament at Dublin’s Citywest Hotel on Saturday.
Van Gerwen’s bid to win a third title in four years at the double-start tournament saw him land an incredible 18 maximum 180s in an astonishing nine-set contest.
Thornton, though, produced a gutsy, resilient display to win his second major PDC title with some ruthless finishing as he picked up the £100,000 first prize.
After van Gerwen raced through the first set 3-0, the Scot won the next two in a deciding leg and also led 3-2 and 4-3 before the Dutchman hit back to send the game all the way.
The pair shared the opening two legs of the ninth and final set, but van Gerwen missed doubles in the next two as Thornton followed a tops finish with a 13-darter to seal glory.
The win adds to Thornton’s previous victories in the 2007 BDO World Masters and 2012 UK Open, and the Scot admitted: “It’s the best day of my darting career.
“It’s unbelievable, absolutely awesome. If you’re going to win a tournament, this is the way to do it, and Michael showed why he’s the world number one at the moment.
“I beat Phil in the UK Open final and he was on top of the pile then, and I’ve beaten Michael tonight. This is so sweet and it goes to show that you should never give in.
“Going into the last set I thought to myself that if I could hold my own throw then I could do this. My wife says that I’m a little pitbull with the heart of a lion; I never give in and I keep fighting to the end.
“Michael hit me with everything but he missed a few doubles going for finishes, and I just kept battling.
“I’m looking forward to the next tournaments but I’ve enjoyed this one. It’s a great tournament.”
Van Gerwen landed 180s with his first two full scoring throws in the match as he opened with a 14-dart finish, and he landed further maximums in the next two legs to take the set without reply.
He added further 180s in the opening two legs of the second set, but saw Thornton finish double five and double eight to lead 2-0 – only for the world number one to hit back on double ten before taking out 101 to level the set.
The fifth leg proved dramatic as Thornton kicked off with scores of 160 and 180 before defying a maximum from the Dutchman to land double 16 to edge the set 3-2 to level.
The third set also went all the way, with finishes of 89 and 68 from van Gerwen cancelled out by a 101 checkout and double three from Thornton, who again kicked off the deciding leg with a 160 before hitting double two for the set and a 2-1 lead.
Van Gerwen hit back immediately by taking the fourth set without reply, hitting checkouts of 104 and 110 in the process, but missed his chance to take the fifth set into a decider when Thornton punished five missed doubles by hitting tops to take the set 3-1 and regain the edge.
Another superb set saw van Gerwen level the contest at three-all, as he hit a 13-darter, a 180 and double four and a 15-dart leg on double nine to hit back – and he continued his momentum in the seventh with two more maximums as he took a 2-0 lead.
Thornton hit back to level by taking out tops and 118, and when van Gerwen missed two darts for the set – at double ten and five – in the decider, a 74 checkout put the plucky Scot 4-3 up.
A superb 177 from van Gerwen set up double 12 as he led in the eighth set, with Thornton levelling only to see van Gerwen hit tops following his 17th maximum as he moved 2-1 ahead before defying a 180 to claim the set on double nine.
Thornton kicked off the decider with a 90 finish, despite van Gerwen piling home another 180, before a 13-darter which was opened with a 160 score saw the Dutchman level.
Three misses from van Gerwen, though, allowed Thornton in to take out 48 as he moved 2-1 up and to the brink of victory, and when the Dutch star missed tops in the next his rival hit the same bed to complete a 13-darter for glory.
Van Gerwen has claimed the UK Open and World Matchplay titles so far this year, but fell just short of adding another winner’s trophy to his ever-growing collection.
“I think it was a fantastic final for everyone to watch, but I didn’t win and I’m gutted,” said the 26-year-old Dutch superstar.
“I missed too many doubles and I gave him too many chances, especially in the last set, and you can’t do that at this stage of the tournament.
“Robert is a fighter and he never gives up. Fair play to Robert; every chance he got he took it and deserved to win this, but I will be back even stronger in the next tournament.”
The win also secures Thornton’s place in the SINGHA Beer Grand Slam of Darts from November 7-15, with the Scot having been the runner-up two years ago at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
Thornton also moves up to fifth in the PDC Order of Merit after securing his 13th PDC ranking title.
Saturday also saw Balbriggan’s Mick McGowan claim a place in the William Hill World Darts Championship as he won the final of the biggest domestic event in Ireland, the Tom Kirby Memorial Irish Matchplay.
McGowan had trailed Cork-based left-hander Tom Biggane 5-3, but hit back to level the game before escaping from four missed match darts to claim a 6-5 win and a return to the big stage for his third World Championship challenge in December at Alexandra Palace.