The World Championships may be on the horizon but this weekend’s Players Championship Finals is the only tournament on Justin Pipe’s mind at the moment.
Minehead’s Butlins holiday resort hosts the penultimate Professional Darts Corporation major competition of the year, with the winner scooping £65,000 after three days of action.
The top 32 from the ProTour Order of Merit will go head-to-head at the oche just a fortnight before attentions turn to London’s Alexandra Palace and the sport’s global showpiece.
However, Pipe of North Curry near Langport was quick to stress the importance of this weekend’s outing on the North Somerset coastline as he attempts to break into the PDC world top ten for the first time.
With the glamour and drama of the Ally Pally often overshadowing the televised culmination of 20 floor events, Pipe – who faces Colin Osborne in the first round this week – said a tough few days awaited darts’ biggest names.
“It’s a tv major and a massive tournament to us all,” he said. “I know the World Championships are around the corner but at the moment the Players Championship Finals is the biggest tv tournament for us to go for. It’s so important to do well there.
“Paying anybody in the top 32 isn’t going to be easy. Although there is probably £30,000 separating number one and number 32 there is no difference in ability so you can’t be complacent.”
The 41-year-old endured a tough warm-up to his most-local major, stumbling at the first round stage in both days of competition at the final ProTour of the year in Barnsley.
On Saturday he was beaten by the experienced Dennis Priestley, a player Pipe counts as one of his inspirations to turn professional. He was then humbled 6-5 on Sunday by Brian Woods, currently ranked 71st in the world.
But Pipe will take heart from some of his most recent performances on the big stage, having reached the quarter-finals in this summer’s World Matchplay in Blackpool and last month’s World Grand Prix in Dublin.
The former tree surgeon is also hoping to emulate reigning champion Kevin Painter, who lifted the Player Championship title in Minehead 12 months ago to end a 13-year wait for a major and effectively earn selection for the 2012 Premier League.
When asked if he will be spurred on by Painter’s example, Pipe said: “You have got to be. Kevin had a good run last year and he is the first one to admit that his opponents had dodgy games but he was in the right place at the right time.
“Not only did he take advantage but he finished the games, which is the hardest thing to do. I think Kevin really deserved to win last year and fair play.
“It just goes to show that you can be in the sport for years and not win a major before one comes along. It keeps you going and gives you hope.
“The weekend in Barnsley was massive, not necessarily for me but for players who are just tagging on to the 32nd spot to make the Players Championship.
“We all want to be in the Players Championship leading up to the Worlds. It was fantastic practice and I was really looking forward to the weekend.”
Pipe hopes carrying the flag for Somerset will mean extra support amongst the sell-out Butlins crowd, but added he was only concerned about successfully negotiating Osborne.
He said: “Obviously it’s the most local event to me but I think the general dart fan there will be the one that is prepared to travel. If there are 100 people from the area cheering me on I would be surprised, but it would be nice to think that there will be, that would be great.
“I don’t think it could get much more local than this but I won’t even think about it, to be honest. When I get up there on the stage there’s only one thing on my mind and that’s playing darts. We could be in Timbucktu, playing in Minehead doesn’t make any difference and I’ll crack on and hopefully get a win in the first round.
“I can then relax a bit and think that I’m in front of my home crowd, but I won’t do that until I’ve got a win under my belt.”
Pipe also thanked Keith Deller – manager of defending double global crown winner Adrian Lewis – for his support, after the 1983 World Champ backed the Somerset man to win a major.
“Keith is such a nice guy and he always speaks as he finds,” said Pipe. “I have known Keith for a couple of years and every time I play Adrian Lewis on the floor, Keith is there as Adrian’s manager.
“Keith watches and he has seen how I play. He has witnessed me hit a 120 average against Adrian before and beat him 6-1 so he know what I am capable of.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before Adrian comes back and it was certainly nice to hear what Keith said.”