JOE Cullen was relieved to win his opening match at the PDC World Darts Championship in “drama-free” fashion, admitting the top players dread the prospect of being dumped out of the tournament before Christmas.

The top 32 players on the PDC’s Order of Merit, on which Bradford native Cullen sits 14th, get a bye into the second round, meaning they only have to win one game before the festivities begin.

The third round does not get underway this year until December 27, with Cullen safely through to it after beating Australian veteran Darren Penhall 3-0 on Sunday.

Wyke ace Cullen produced a solid display, averaging over 93 and more than 50 per cent on his doubles in a comfortable victory.

He told the T&A afterwards: “I couldn’t have asked for a more drama-free game.

“You obviously don’t want to lose, but you don’t want to be embroiled in a match that requires you to come through a scrap either.

“The game against Darren probably went as expected, because while he played well in his opener (beating Jules van Dongen 3-1), it was a different proposition against me.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Darren Penhall fought gamely on Sunday, but he was no match for Joe Cullen.Darren Penhall fought gamely on Sunday, but he was no match for Joe Cullen. (Image: PA.)

Cullen made a bright start, landing a 160 checkout, the highest of the tournament up to that point, on his way to winning the opening set.

The Bradfordian said: “Darren won the first leg of the match with a 13-darter, when I thought he’d take longer than that to settle, so it was nice to nail that big 160 finish and ease my own nerves.

“I don’t really get that nervous before games any more, but I was really feeling it before going out and playing Darren, so that was a bit of an unsettling sensation in the practice room.

“I was thinking about the worst-case scenario and questioning myself, so it was nice to play how I did in the end.”

At the age of 51, this year marked Penhall’s debut at the Worlds, with Cullen saying: “I do know Darren, because he’s played on the Tour before.

“I think he beat me once too, but it’s very different going from the floor to the stage.

“I certainly knew he could play going into our second round match, but when I spoke to my manager beforehand, I said I felt the only way I could lose was if I got complacent.

“That’s not to sound arrogant, but I’m a bigger name than Darren, with more experience.”

Penhall will not be in action at the tournament after Christmas after Sunday’s whitewash, with Cullen revealing just how painful it would have been for him had the result been the other way round.

He said: “It is strange at the Worlds, having one game and then a long break until after Christmas.

“I’ve been in Darren’s shoes, because my record when I first started playing at the Worlds was awful, I didn’t win any of my first six first-round games here.

“I wouldn’t quite say it ruins your Christmas when that happens, but it’s a more sombre experience for sure.

“In my house, the darts is always on TV at Christmas too, so it’s a hard watch when you’re already out.

“It’s the thing on everyone’s mind at the start of the tournament, just getting through that first game and winning it.”

Despite those aforementioned pre-match nerves though, Cullen has cut a relaxed figure over the last couple of weeks, playing a starring role in a couple of skits concocted by tournament sponsors Paddy Power and the PDC.

The Wyke star said: “I have been quite relaxed doing daft little things, like playing against punters in disguise and throwing an apple in the bin as target practice (ask Michael Owen about the latter).

“The social media lads are nearly all young and they’ve got fresh ideas, so they’re not stuck in the past, like things maybe were a bit when I started out playing in the PDC.

“When you mix that with Paddy Power, who always push the boat out, no matter what sport they’re covering, and you end up with something that’s so much better, not a product that’s boring and only about playing darts.”