Gary Blades, Jason Lowe and Harald Leitinger were the first three players to win PDC Tour Cards on Day One of the 2020 PDC Qualifying Schools.
The trio all won a Tour Card for the first time with their successes in Wigan and Hildesheim as over 800 players began their quest to secure spots on the PDC circuit.
Lincoln’s Blades, a 39-year-old planner for Anglian Water, makes his return to the circuit after seeing off Tony Newell 5-1 to win their decider in the UK Qualifying School in Wigan.
Blades had previously competed from 2005-2010 on the PDC circuit – competing in the 2005 and 2007 UK Opens – before stepping away from the top level for eight years.
However, his success in claiming eight victories on Thursday – including a 5-2 win over four-time Women’s World Champion Lisa Ashton – saw him claim a coveted two-year PDC Tour Card.
“I’m feeling like this is a weird dream,” admitted Blades. “I didn’t expected today to happen but it has – I’m surprised and ecstatic.
“I stepped away partly because of work and partly because I wasn’t playing well enough. I had a go last year and did okay, but in the last few months I’ve been playing really well.
“I’ve been consistent all day, which isn’t like me! I’ve hit good scores when I needed to and finishes when I needed to. It’s exciting knowing that when the ProTour starts I’ll be there playing the best players in the world.
“We’ll see what happens in the next two years now. Gerwyn Price and Rob Cross are the perfect examples of what can happen when you start testing yourself and get better, so hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.”
Lowe, a 47-year-old builder from Cradley Heath, will also compete full-time on the circuit for the first time since Tour Cards were introduced in 2011 after he was a 5-1 winner over Steve Brown in their final.
Lowe averaged over 100 in wins over Corey Burton and Andrew Foster, before seeing off recent World Championship qualifier Ritchie Edhouse, former Challenge Tour event winner Peter Jacques and 2012 World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton.
Lowe previously reached the last 32 as a qualifier at the 2018 UK Open, but had opted out of the 2019 Qualifying School and only decided to enter this year’s event an hour before the entry deadline on Tuesday.
“I’m totally shocked,” said Lowe. “I only entered at the last minute and there’s nobody more shocked than me today – I’ve played well and I’m thrilled.
“I’ve had some fantastic averages but in some matches I’ve missed some doubles and I’ve been lucky in a couple of games, but you need a bit of luck.
“I’ve got to up my game to stand a chance but I’ll put the practice in, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Austria’s Leitinger, 35, edged past Martijn Kleermaker 5-4 in their final in Hildesheim, after the Dutchman missed his chance to claim a Tour Card in their deciding leg.
Leitinger has only previously competed twice in PDC events, in 2011 and 2017, but will now get his chance to become a full-time professional in 2020 and 2021 after securing his status on the PDC circuit.
He won eight games on the day at Halle 39, including defeats of Austrian World Cup representative Zoran Lerchbacher and former World Youth Championship finalist Berry van Peer in deciding legs.
Leitinger also overcame Dutch duo Wesley Harms and Kay Smeets as well as Belgium’s Brian Raman in the latter stages as he progressed to claim a coveted Tour Card.
“Today was my first day at Q School and I’m very happy,” said Leitinger. “It was very hard for me, I had three games which were 5-4.
“It’s a surprise. I’ve been playing mainly [electronic] darts and now I’ll take the chance in steel darts.”
Kleermaker gained valuable ranking points in his bid to claim a PDC Tour Card, while Raman and Croatia’s Boris Krcmar were semi-finalists on Day One of the four-day Qualifying School in Hildesheim.
Fallon Sherrock, who made history as the first woman to win at the William Hill World Darts Championship last month, claimed three wins – including a 5-4 defeat of returning Paul Nicholson – as she won through to the last 64, before losing out to Darryl Pilgrim.
Ashton joined 2019 Brisbane Darts Masters winner Damon Heta and experienced pair Wayne Jones and Mark Dudbridge in reaching the last 32, while American prospect Danny Lauby joined Andy Hamilton, Robert Collins and Ryan Murray in the last eight.
The 2020 PDC Qualifying School continues on Friday with the second of four days of play, with a further three automatic Tour Cards on offer alongside valuable ranking points for players on the Q School Orders of Merit.
European Qualifying School Day One
Brian Raman 5-2 Tytus Kanik
Franz Roetzsch 5-4 Wesley Plaisier
Kay Smeets 5-3 Thomas Junghans
Harald Leitinger 5-2 Wesley Harms
Karel Sedlacek 5-4 Jeffrey de Graaf
Boris Krcmar 5-4 Dragutin Horvat
Martijn Kleermaker 5-4 Thibault Tricole
Tonny Veenhof 5-3 Derk Telnekens
Brian Raman 5-0 Franz Roetzsch
Harald Leitinger 5-2 Kay Smeets
Boris Krcmar 5-3 Karel Sedlacek
Martijn Kleermaker 5-3 Tonny Veenhof
Harald Leitinger 5-2 Brian Raman
Martijn Kleermaker 5-4 Boris Krcmar
Harald Leitinger 5-4 Martijn Kleermaker
UK Qualifying School Day One
Danny Lauby 5-2 Carl Hamilton
Steve Brown 5-1 Martin Atkins (Wigan)
Jason Lowe 5-2 Peter Jacques
Andy Hamilton 5-4 Adam Hunt
Ryan Murray 5-4 Justin Smith
Tony Newell 5-2 Andy Chalmers
Gary Blades 5-3 Dafydd Edwards
Robert Collins 5-1 Alan Tabern
Steve Brown 5-3 Danny Lauby
Jason Lowe 5-4 Andy Hamilton
Tony Newell 5-3 Ryan Murray
Gary Blades 5-3 Robert Collins
Jason Lowe 5-1 Steve Brown
Gary Blades 5-1 Tony Newell