Only a show of magic was going to deny Phil Taylor his 15th world title but not even Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock was able to cast his spell over the game's greatest player here last night. The 40-year-old Australian has been the unlikely hero of this year's Ladbrokes.com PDC World Championship and pushed Taylor hard before losing the final 7-3. Considering that Taylor had dropped only one set in his five previous matches it was no mean performance by the former bricklayer from Brisbane.
When Taylor failed to win the 2007 and 2008 world titles it seemed that his reign might be over, but the 49-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent has come back stronger than ever. "The Power" has been in electrifying form in recent times, winning an average of three out of every four tournaments he has played after switching to redesigned darts following advice from a former Ministry of Defence expert in missile technology and aerodynamics.
Having won more than £750,000 in prize money last year, Taylor boosted his bank balance by a further £200,000 with this victory. The sponsors have already made him 4-11 favourite to defend his title successfully in 12 months' time.
Whitlock, the world No 98, was a 66-1 outsider at the start of the tournament, but had beaten five seeds en route to the final, including Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade, No 2 and No 3 in the world respectively. He maintained his spectacular scoring to the end, hitting 11 maximum 180s to Taylor's nine and finding 41 per cent of his doubles compared with the world No 1's 33 per cent.
Taylor, however, went from strength to strength after a shaky start in which he missed his first six attempts at a double and lost two of the first three sets. Whitlock, having lost the first, levelled the match with superb check-outs of 170, 82 and 76 in a bizarre second set in which all five legs went against the throw.
After Taylor missed three doubles in a pivotal third leg of the third set it was Whitlock who took the lead, but his advantage did not last long. Taylor won six of the next seven legs and went 3-2 up with check-outs of 167 and 161 in the fifth set. Even better was to follow as Taylor hit a 170 finish in taking a 6-2 lead.
A final flourish saw Whitlock reduce the arrears to 6-3, but Taylor was not to be denied and secured the title in suitably majestic fashion, hitting treble 20, treble 13 and double 16 with his last three darts.
Taylor described the match as one of his greatest finals. "It was like Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank all over again," he said. "Simon never gave up. He just kept coming back at me."
For Whitlock, the last fortnight has been a life-changing experience. Until now he has been one of the game's journeymen, rarely reaching the latter stages of the big events. He made his first major breakthrough when he reached the final of the rival British Darts Organisation's world championship at Frimley Green two years ago and turned professional last year, leaving the BDO to join the Professional Darts Corporation circuit.
However, travelling to and from Australia has been a gruelling and costly business. Whitlock, whose parents emigrated from Britain nearly 50 years ago, was starting to question his future until he arrived here, but will now look ahead with confidence. His performances in north London have already attracted new sponsors and he plans to move permanently to Britain and play darts full-time.