'Wizard of Oz' Whitlock targets title

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2013
Simon Whitlock
Getty Images
LOOKING GOOD: British crowds like Australian Simon Whitlock’s distinguishing features.

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Professional darts fan favourite Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock still has ambitions of claiming an elusive world championship title.

The 44-year-old Australian - as well known for his big finishes as his long hair and beard - is the fourth seed for the 16-strong Sydney Darts Masters which starts tonight.

With runner-up finishes at the 2008 British Darts Organisation's world championship, the 2010 Professional Darts Corporation's (PDC) world championship, and a win at the 2012 European championship, Whitlock knows he's not far away from reaching the pinnacle.

"The last few years since I turned professional I've stayed in the top five in the world rankings. Hopefully I'll be a world champion one day . . . I just want to take that one final step."

Whitlock was introduced to darts by his English father, who had a board on the wall in the family living room.

Prizemoney won at the PDC's 2010 world championship allowed him to shift to Britain and compete fulltime on the Pro Tour where he sends the passionate crowds into a frenzy when he walks out to his theme song, Men At Work's Down Under.

"It's always a great atmosphere, everyone just seems to have a ball," Whitlock said.

"We aren't too aware, unless there's a fight or something happens - which doesn't happen too often. We are there concentrating and you need to block the crowd out because they can distract you.

"I've always had the long hair and the beard. I decided it looked good and the crowd really like it. I'd rather the crowd are on my side than against me. I've seen other players who have the crowd against them and it's not a pretty sight."

The growing popularity of darts has led to some calling for it to be promoted to the Commonwealth Games, or even the Olympics, and not surprisingly, Whitlock is a fan of the idea.

"I'd love to see it at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. It's the sort of sport that people dedicate their lives to, they practice hard. It's a fine art, darts."

New Zealand will have two representatives in the first round of the Sydney Masters, which are being shown live on Sky TV.

Invercargill's Warren Parry qualified courtesy of his win in the New Zealand Charter Clubs championship, and he will be joined by Auckland's Monty Tuhua, who won through from a qualifying tournament in Sydney this week.

Parry has drawn eighth-seeded Englishman Paul Nicholson, who is ranked 19th in the world.

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Tuhua, a 58-year-old butcher, has drawn third-seeded Englishman Adrian Lewis, ranked No 3 in the world.

SKY TV COVERAGE

First round: First round stages, best of 11 legs, SKY Sport 4, 10.00pm, Thursday, August 29
Quarterfinals: Top eight knockout stages, best of 15 legs, SKY Sport 4, 10pm, Friday, August 30
Semifinals and final: Top four knockout stages, best of 19 legs, SKY Sport 3, 10pm, Saturday, August 31

- The Southland Times

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