Darts: Holden wins battle with demons

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The Independent Online

Every time Mark Holden steps up to the oche he knows he will have to beat two opponents. "There's the man I'm playing and the fellow inside my head who's trying to stop me throwing my darts," Holden said yesterday after crushing Simon Whatley 3-0 in the second round of the PDC World Darts Championship at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex.

The 44-year-old publican from Manchester is a victim of "dartitis", the equivalent of golf's yips. It is a mental block that every darts player dreads and has plagued the careers of some of the best, including Eric Bristow, the former world champion.

"When you throw you feel yourself stopping for a millisecond and the dart goes astray," Holden explained.

Holden spent more than £3,000 trying to find a cure, consulting a £100-per-hour hypnotherapist and an acupuncturist, but to no avail. He stopped playing and gave away his darts. Three months ago, however, he was asked to make up the numbers in a match at his pub and his appetite for the game returned. A change of grip has helped, but Holden still has to fight his demons.

"I feel as though I'm back to 90 per cent of where I was two years ago, but it's always at the back of your mind," he said. "I felt it coming again in the third set today. I stand back, have a drink of water and just try to fight it."

The tactic worked perfectly as Holden, who came here as a 1,000-1 outsider, swept aside Whatley, a 31-year-old who is regarded as one of the sport's up-and-coming talents and was a quarter-finalist last year. Holden, who came through the qualifying tournament, spiked another young gun in James Wade in the previous round and goes on to meet Denis Ovens, the No 12 seed, in a lunchtime match today.

Holden was due back in Manchester last night to pull pints at the Apple and Pear in Alkrington, Middleton, but a hasty change of staffing arrangements spared the landlord a four-hour drive and return journey this morning. It will enable Holden to prepare properly for the biggest match of his career, though he is hardly short of confidence. "If I'm feeling good I think I can beat anybody in the world," he said.

Yesterday's afternoon session was one of the shortest on record as the three other second-round matches all ended in emphatic 3-0 victories. Two international qualifiers, the Dutchman Josephus Schenk and the Canadian Gerry Convery, swept aside Alan Caves and Wes Newton respectively, while Peter Evison beat his good friend Mark Landers.

The serious action begins today as the big names enter the fray in the last 32. Colin Lloyd, whose excellent year has seen him edge out Phil Taylor as the No 1 seed, meets the winner of last night's match between John Lowe and John Verway, while John Part, champion two years ago, plays Convery. Taylor, the 11 times world champion, and Kevin Painter, last year's beaten finalist, begin their campaigns tomorrow.