Defending champion Andy Thomson makes early exit from WBT world indoor bowls singles championship
To say that defending champion Andy Thomson made a disappointing first round exit from the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines WBT world indoor singles championship would be an understatement.
The 57-year-old Anglo Scot, who last year became the oldest man to win the title, was unthinkably beaten to the jack by a 37-year-old New Zealander, Phil Bennett, who played consistent bowls and returned an 8-8 8-3 card. By any standards it was a major shock.
'To be honest, I was a bit fortunate to tie the first set,' said Thomson, who scored a double on the last end to square things up in a game which provided some perfect drama for the start of the live BBC TV coverage at Potters Leisure Resort in Hopton.
'But I was very pleased to do so, because it meant we started the second set on an equal footing.'
But the second set soon went away from the Fife-born England team captain Thomson, as Bennett scored five singles and a double to lead, 7-1 with only two ends left to play, and, although Thomson picked up a double on the penultimate end, he was never going to score a full house of four shots on the last end.
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Astute bowls watchers had picked up signs that all was not well with Thomson before he stepped on to the green – despite last year's success, he was never confident, and his body language betrayed his psychological state.
'My form this winter has not been good, and I have never dropped into a rhythm during my practice sessions,' he admitted. 'I hoped that everything would change when I got out there, but it didn't. I never really got going.'
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Having been critical of the ShotClock that has been introduced to speed the game up this year, and despite being aware of the pressure on defending champions, who all too often go out in the first round, Thomson refused to use either issue as an excuse.
'I was outplayed, simple as that,' he said. 'I'm disappointed, of course, but not gutted. I can look back on my career, which has produced so many highlights for me, and winning last year was the icing on the cake – and, let's face it, Phil really did play well.'
Thomson did score two trebles in the first set, but the measure of Bennett's superiority was that he allowed Thomson to score on only five of the 18 ends played.
On one end, the pumped-up Kiwi charged up the green after his bowl, and cleared the bank at the back of the rink like a high-jumper.
'The adrenaline was pumping around my body, and that win, which must be the highlight of my career, gave me such a buzz,' he explained.
Having qualified for the world indoor singles championship twice before, and for the Scottish International Open once, Bennett, from Hamilton, was delighted, on his fourth visit to the UK, to notch up his first win in a World Bowls Tour ranking event.
After beating the defending champion and number one seed, Bennett will now face the number 16 seed, Nick Brett, a City of Ely clubmate of world number one Nick Brett, on Thursday morning for a place in the quarter-finals.