MICHAEL VAN GERWEN and Gary Anderson hit eight 180s apiece as they won through the Cash Converters Players Championship Finals first round on Friday, as Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Vincent van der Voort and Jelle Klaasen produced brilliant displays in Minehead.
Reigning champion van Gerwen powered past Raymond van Barneveld 6-2 in their all-Dutch clash as he made a successful return to the Butlins Minehead stage.
After van Gerwen landed a 13-dart leg on his way to a 2-0 lead, van Barneveld took two of the next three to reduce the gap to 3-2 despite the World Champion firing in an 11-dart finish.
Van Gerwen, though, found another gear as he landed two 180s in leg six, another maximum and a 128 checkout to lead 5-2 and his eighth 180 in the next before finishing double ten to seal the win.
"I'm really happy with my performance," said van Gerwen, who averaged 105.80 in the win. "My finishing was good and I hit the big scores at the right time tonight, so it was a good display.
"It was a good win to start the tournament and this is something I can build on now. I can relax now and prepare for Saturday night now because I've got to take each game one at a time."
The world number one now meets Terry Jenkins in the second round in a repeat of October's European Championship final, after the Ledbury thrower averaged 100.84 in his 6-3 win over former finalist Kim Huybrechts, sealing the win with a 116 finish.
Number one seed Gary Anderson matched van Gerwen's eight maximums and averaged 110.62 - the highest of the first round - but was still pushed all the way to a deciding leg against Christian Kist.
The Dutch debutant saw an early 2-0 lead wiped out as Anderson posted legs of 11 and 12 darts to edge ahead, only for Kist to take out 121 for a 12-darter to move 5-4 up.
Anderson landed a maximum in an 11-darter as he took the game into a deciding leg, punishing Kist for one missed match dart at the bull, and the Scot landed another 180 before finishing tops for a 13-darter as he edged to victory.
"I played some fantastic darts but Christian kept up with me and played really well," said Anderson. "I hit him with everything and he kept coming back so it's a relief to get through."
Three-time Players Championship Finals winner Phil Taylor averaged 107.97 as he saw off veteran star Ronnie Baxter to move through to a second round date with Mervyn King.
Taylor continued the form which had won him the Grand Slam of Darts title a month ago with a relentless display of scoring, including legs of 12, 14 and 15 darts to pull away from one-all to lead 4-1.
Baxter took out 101 to hit back, but Taylor landed a 177 on his way to winning leg seven before firing in a 13-dart leg to seal the win.
"It was a good win and I played quite well, but Ronnie was good too and it was a bit tit-for-tat at times," said Taylor. "I'm happy to get through because I was a bit nervous about playing Ronnie because he's got so much experience."
In-form King - the Masters runner-up to James Wade at the start of November - had booked his second round spot with a 6-3 win over Andrew Gilding, hitting five 180s in a strong performance.
Wade's hopes of adding the Players Championship Finals title to his Masters crown were dashed by a brilliant first round performance from Jelle Klaasen, who averaged 108.74 in a 6-4 triumph.
"I hit my doubles well and I scored well and I played really well," said Klaasen. "I felt good, and twice after James had broken throw I broke him back with an 11-darter.
"On the floor I've been played well and normally it's a bit different on stage, but in the last few TV events I've been playing well on stage as well and my confidence is growing."
Vincent van der Voort completed a trio of Dutch stars who progressed to the last 16 by completing the first round's only 6-0 whitewash victory as he took out finishes of 152 and 140 to storm past Andy Hamilton with a 104.86 average.
"I could tell from the second leg that Andy was struggling, but I had to stay focused because it could have happened that he came back, but I played well," said the former UK Open finalist.
"If I'd given him a chance and he'd taken it, he might have turned the match around but I played some good darts.
"I didn't realise that my average was so good but I'm happy with that - my form's great and I want to show that to the public now so maybe this is my weekend."
Van der Voort now meets Peter Wright in the second round, after the number four seed overcame young Dutchman Benito van de Pas 6-2, with a run of four straight legs to take a 5-1 lead proving crucial as he took the win.
World number three Adrian Lewis averaged 105 in his 6-2 win over Dave Chisnall, who suffered a third successive first round exit in the event.
Lewis stormed into an early 3-0 lead, and after Chisnall cut the gap to just one leg the Stoke ace fired in two 180s as he restored his cushion before sealing the win by finishing 121 on the bull.
Lewis now plays Andy Smith, who claimed his first victory over Michael Smith in seven games against the former World Youth Champion with a 6-4 triumph.
The Studley thrower landed legs of 12 and 13 darts as he swept into a 5-1 lead, and though the youngster hit back to 5-4 with the aid of a 170 finish and a 13-darter, he had enough cushion to seal his second round place on double eight.
Wes Newton impressed with a 103 average as he overcame Justin Pipe 6-1, with the Taunton ace suffering a first round exit after two successive semi-final appearances in the event over the past two years.
Newton now meets Brendan Dolan, who edged past Kevin Painter 6-5 after the 2011 champion missed double 16 to take victory in the deciding leg of a contest which featured four ton-plus finishes.
Robert Thornton was another narrow winner as he came from 4-3 down to defeat Darren Webster 6-5, with the Norwich thrower missing two match darts at double 18 in their decider.
"That's probably the finest margins you could get when he put those two darts on the wire of double 18," admitted Thornton. "Darren's one of the steadiest darts players on the circuit, but he started to taper off towards the end when the pressure was on.
"I've got Jamie Caven next and that's going to be just as tough as this, but my form's coming back and my finishing was good. If I make one or two wee tweaks, I think I'll be okay."
Caven booked his second round spot with a 6-4 win over Stoke's Ian White, taking out a 164 finish in the process.
Dean Winstanley produced a superb display to defeat Australian star Simon Whitlock 6-3 in a high-quality contest which saw both players average over 100 as the Yorkshireman moves through to meet Klaasen.
Debutant Stephen Bunting matched that 6-3 triumph as he defeated Steve Beaton, winning the game's opening five legs without reply before holding off the former Lakeside Champion's fightback to move through to take on Anderson on Saturday night.
Cash Converters Players Championship Finals
Friday November 28
Jamie Caven 6-4 Ian White
Wes Newton 6-1 Justin Pipe
Brendan Dolan 6-5 Kevin Painter
Robert Thornton 6-5 Darren Webster
Terry Jenkins 6-3 Kim Huybrechts
Andy Smith 6-4 Michael Smith
Dean Winstanley 6-3 Simon Whitlock
Mervyn King 6-3 Andrew Gilding
Stephen Bunting 6-3 Steve Beaton
Vincent van der Voort 6-0 Andy Hamilton
Jelle Klaasen 6-4 James Wade
Adrian Lewis 6-2 Dave Chisnall
Phil Taylor 6-2 Ronnie Baxter
Gary Anderson 6-5 Christian Kist
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Raymond van Barneveld
Peter Wright 6-2 Benito van de Pas