We’re already at that time of the year when the PDC World Darts Championship, at London’s glorious Alexandra Palace, is poised tantalisingly on the horizon.
But first we have this: the Players Championships Finals, which takes its place as the penultimate event of the darting calendar year.
It’s an unusual event in that the 64 qualifiers are determined by performances in Pro Tour events away from the TV cameras. It’s why Phil Taylor won’t take his place at Butlins Minehead – he simply didn’t play enough of those events to qualify for these Finals.
That qualification system also explains why the seedings are rather unusual. The top seed will be Rob Cross – no great surprise there since he’s had a fine year, but then you’ve got Gary Anderson down at number four and the unstoppable Michael van Gerwen as low as number six!
The upshot, from a betting perspective, is that the draw brackets offer plenty of opportunities for unheralded players to reach the latter stages of the tournament. Just look at last year’s edition, where the likes of Darren Webster, Christian Kist and Robbie Green reached the quarter final stage.
Looking at the 2017 event, the stage is surely set for Rob Cross to win his first televised major.
Danger! High Voltage
The former electrician, nicknamed Voltage thanks to a combination of his former profession and his surname (clever, eh?), has gone close in recent weeks, reaching the final of the European Championship and losing out to MVG in the World Series and Grand Slam of Darts.
In that latter event Cross averaged a minimum of 100 in each of his matches, suggesting he is coming to terms with the pressure of playing on the big stage, and really all he needs is a lucky break to get over the line.
Perhaps, at Minehead, he might just have had one.
The seedings have handed him a rather straightforward route to the quarter finals, with a possible path of Rob Owen, Steve Lennon and an out-of-form Adrian Lewis won’t keep him up at night, and he beat potential last eight opponent Raymond van Barneveld just last week in Wolverhampton.
That, compared to the routes of his opponents, is very agreeable.
Gary Anderson may have to overcome Mensur Suljovic in his quarter, while in the bottom half the likes of MVG, Peter Wright, Daryl Gurney, Dave Chisnall, Kyle Anderson, Kim Huybrechts, Simon Whitlock and Michael Smith make up an ultra-competitive side of the draw.
Serendipity for Cross then, who deserves an easier path given his form on the Pro Tour this year. At 12/1 to win the event, there will be plenty willing to cash in on the former sparky.
Day One: Best Bets
It’s a rather chaotic schedule on Friday at Butlins, with all 64 players in action from 1pm right through to 10pm. There will be some sore heads amongst those present in the crowd come Saturday morning!
These early matches are all best-of-11 legs, and those are ripe for a shock result or two. So here’s a few odds-against wagers that look decent value….
Known as ‘The Force’ Justin Pipe is a player whose form comes and goes, but he is well worth backing at a 21/20 price against the out-of-sorts Mark Webster.
Pipe last’s TV appearance came at the World Series, where he defeated Dave Chisnall before bowing out to Peter Wright in the second round. Webster, meanwhile, played three matches at the Grand Slam and didn’t average higher than 92 and change in any of them. If Pipe gets off to a good start, has Webby got the scoring power to rein him in?
‘The Machine Gun’ Jermaine Wattimena is a power scorer who lacks consistency; but in this short format, he could blast his opponent out of the water. The fact he has reached three Players Championship event semi-finals highlights that.
Keegan Brown was once tipped as the next big thing in darts after winning the World Youth Championship back in 2014. But it hasn’t quite worked out as planned and just two quarter-final appearances all season long identifies a talented young player that is out of form. Wattimena, at 21/20, is the hot play.
Vincent van der Voort
The Dutch Destroyer aka Vincent van der Voort is one of the most popular players on tour, thanks mainly to the fact his name fits perfectly into the chorus of KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’ (try it).
He plays Robbie Green, who apparently is in desperate need of a knee replacement operation. Kong struggled on at the Grand Slam, but averages of 88 and 79 in two of his group games there confirm a player who may, mentally speaking, just have hung up his tungsten for 2017. Back VDV at 21/20.