It was with characteristic focus, consistency and unrelenting drive that Phil Taylor won his 16th world darts title tonight. The most successful player in the history of the game beat Michael van Gerwen 7-4, fighting back from 2-0 and then 4-2 down to win the £200,000 prize for the first time since 2010.
Van Gerwen, competing in his first world championship final, started excellently but could not live with the experience of his opponent. The 23-year-old's standards slipped as the game went on while Taylor got better and better, eventually overwhelming Van Gerwen in the way that only he can.
“I am absolutely over the moon, I can't explain how I feel,” an emotional Taylor said afterwards. “I really don't know how long I can keep doing this for. I'm 53 this year but I'm coming back to defend the title.”
One day Taylor's commitment and ambition might start to wane but for now he is unmatchable in his hunger, winning the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th sets against a man 29 years younger than him.
Van Gerwen was always going to start quickly and so he did, making it clear in the first few sets that he would not easily and instantly offer Taylor those narrow opportunities he thrives on. The Dutchman began not just with raw talent and brilliance but powerful closing too.
He won the first set with a 140 finish and made the game's first break of throw in the second set with 98. He won that set too and with a 2-0 lead in his first world final he had started perfectly.
Taylor, never rattled, won the next two sets. Van Gerwen's scoring was slipping as his average dipped back towards 100. He missed a dart at double top to go 3-1 ahead but Taylor completed his first minor fight-back.
Van Gerwen was not easily thrown. Recovering his rhythm he regained his two-set lead. Finishes of 90 and 70 sent him to 3-2 up before the old high-scoring returned to open up a 4-2 lead. “I just couldn't seem to crack him,” said Taylor.
For a few minutes there was nearly a sense of changing eras, as if Taylor might just be finally being replaced as the game's leading player. Maybe Taylor even felt it. But he responded with an hour of astonishing darts, as good as he has thrown in his career, to turn the game.
All the old relentlessness, the focus and the clinicism came back for Taylor. Van Gerwen, having thrown so fast for so long, started to run out of energy. He had darts to go 5-2 up, his last bright moment, but missed them, and from then on it was all Taylor.
“It wasn't enough,” reflected Van Gerwen afterwards. “Phil played great tonight. It was a tough game for me, a difficult game. Phil played very well.”
Taylor pulled it back to 4-3 and Van Gerwen started to wilt. There was a 136 finish on his way to the eighth set and parity at 4-4. Last time Taylor had pulled back from 2-0 to 2-2 he lost the next two sets, but not this time. Taylor had the momentum and it took him all the way to the Sid Waddell Trophy.
The veteran champion finally went ahead after two hours of play, winning yet another decisive fifth leg to lead 5-4. In the 10th set, Van Gerwen missed a finish to make it 2-2 and Taylor, with a consistency approaching the robotic, made his. At 6-4 the game was up and in the final set, Taylor's 91 – typically perfect – made him world champion again.