Phil Taylor held his nerve in a tense opening round battle with Mervyn King on Monday night, kick-starting his bid for a 13th World Matchplay title with a 10-8 defeat of the Norfolk ace, as fellow Stoke thrower Ian White stunned Vincent van der Voort.
Reigning champion Taylor prevailed from a tight struggle for much of the game, sharing the opening ten legs before establishing a 7-5 cushion, only for King to hit back and level at 8-8.
Heavy scoring King produced eight 180s in the game but crucially missed three darts to lead as Taylor edged 9-8 up with a 68 finish to break the throw.
The Power went on to seal victory with double top in the next and avoid the match going into overtime as he moves into the last 16.
"I was nervous tonight to be honest but I got the job done and I'm through," said Taylor. "Mervyn was probably the better player through the game - he hit loads of 180s but he missed some crucial doubles."
As well as bidding to win a record-equalling fifth World Matchplay title, Taylor is battling to keep hold of his status as world number one, with Adrian Lewis poised to take over at the top of the PDC Order of Merit should he lift the title this week.
"The pressure's building a bit," admits Taylor. "People keep reminding me that Adrian can be world number one, and if he does that I'll be the proudest person in the world and also the unhappiest, and I can't knock him for what he's doing," added the Stoke great.
Taylor will now play fellow Stoke thrower Ian White on Thursday, after the world number 47 Blackpool enjoyed a dream debut on the Winter Gardens stage with a 10-5 win over rapid Dutchman Vincent van der Voort.
White took command early on by winning four of the opening five legs and headed into the first break on the back of a superb 161 checkout.
The man known as 'Diamond' continued in that vain for the rest of the match and bettered that finish with a roof-raising 164 en route to securing a comfortable win against a clearly frustrated opponent.
"It's a brilliant victory for me," said White. "I've got to take each game at a time, and it will be nice to play Phil - and if I can take out those sort of finishes against him who knows what will happen."
The night's other winners were Andy Hamilton and Mark Webster, who will now clash in the last 16 on Thursday night.
Hamilton, a semi-finalist 12 months ago, battled past Brendan Dolan with a 10-7 triumph, while Webster overcame 2005 champion Colin Lloyd 10-6.
Despite dropping the opening leg, The Hammer took a stranglehold on the match and despite on a 29% doubles success rate, remained in front and grinded out the win.
Welshman Webster disposed of a plucky Colin Lloyd to round off the night; the former Lakeside champion was solid if not spectacular in sealing victory, but edged out Jaws after he had a 140 checkout with two doubles tops himself.
"That was a real battle against a player who's in some good form at the moment, but I think that I deserved the win in the end," said Webster. "I didn't think I played that well but all that mattered was getting through.
"I've not been playing brilliant darts recently and I'm a bit down on my confidence, but I tried not to get frustrated and I've got three days to prepare to play Andy, because that will be a tough match," added the left-hander.
The first round of the £400,000 tournament concludes on Tuesday night with the final four games, including number four seed Gary Anderson up against debutant Dean Winstanley.
World Youth Champion James Hubbard will celebrate his 20th birthday when he makes his first Winter Gardens appearance against Fleetwood's world number five Wes Newton, while local star Ronnie Baxter meets in-form Dave Chisnall and Justin Pipe plays Joe Cullen.
First Round - Monday July 23
Andy Hamilton 10-7 Brendan Dolan
Vincent van der Voort 5-10 Ian White
Phil Taylor 10-8 Mervyn King
Mark Webster 10-6 Colin Lloyd
Tuesday July 24
Justin Pipe v Joe Cullen
Wes Newton v James Hubbard
Gary Anderson v Dean Winstanley
Dave Chisnall v Ronnie Baxter