It’s creeping closer, you know. The PDC World Darts Championship kicks off on Thursday night to usher in two-and-a-bit weeks of top notch tungsten tossing.
The best of the best will be at Alexandra Palace looking to create their own slice of history, and in this first round they will be looking to get the job done quickly and effectively.
That’s not to say there won’t be the odd upset, though, and as we know the bookmakers don’t always get their pricing right. Listed below are four punts that could raise some pre-Christmas cheer:
Steve West to beat Benito van de Pas (6/4)
It’s amazing that a sportsman can start to peak at the age of 41, but that’s exactly what Steve West did when he knocked Phil Taylor out of the World Grand Prix in 2016.
That was the catalyst for improved form from the man known as ‘Simply’ (gold star if you can work out why), who this year has made the last 16 of the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix as well as the latter stages of a trio of Players Championship events.
A prolific 180 hitter, if West’s doubles are up to scratch he’s a match for anyone.
Benito van de Pas is like one of those footballers who it seems has been called a ‘precious young talent’ for years. Now 24, this has been a really poor season for the Dutchman, and since the summer he has suffered a litany of first-round defeats.
Ranked 14 in the world, ‘Big Ben’ needs a strong showing to preserve his top 16 status – crucial for gaining easier entry into events – and that pressure, plus West’s ability to turn it on, makes the underdog worthy of investment.
Krzysztof Ratajski to beat James Wilson (10/11)
He was the underdog they all wanted to avoid in the first round. Despite an uneventful career so far, Ratajski hit the big time recently when he won the BDO’s World Masters, beating world champion Glen Durrant in the quarters and world number one Mark McGeeney 6-1 in the final.
That guaranteed the Pole a place in the BDO World Championships, but he turned that down in favour of the chance to qualify for the PDC Worlds, which he accomplished.
That’s bad news for James Wilson, who is yet to really kick on in the PDC and has certainly never delivered his best darts on the big stage. As if that pressure wasn’t enough, he also has to reach the second round to protect his world ranking of 32 – that won’t help a player who is notoriously twitchy when playing in front of big crowds.
Jonny Clayton -1.5 Sets vs Jamie Lewis/Kenny Neyens (11/10)
What a good few months it has been for Clayton, who won his first ever ranking event in the PDC at a Players’ Championship qualifier in October before following up with the biggest payday of his career in reaching the final of the Players’ Championship itself, where he was downed by Michael van Gerwen.
The Ferret, as he is known, had already knocked out Gerwyn Price, Stephen Bunting and the red-hot Rob Cross on route to the final, so he could not be any more confident right now.
Contrast that to Jamie Lewis, the Welshman who has all but fallen off the radar this season. A huge talent, Lewis yet to realise it and it speaks volumes that his biggest payday of the season will come just for turning up at the Worlds!
That said, he should beat Kenny Neyens in the preliminary round; a player this ardent darts writer has never heard of. But a comfortable win in the first round for Clayton over Lewis should follow.
Daryl Gurney 3-0 Correct Score vs Ronny Huybrechts (13/10)
Up to number four in the world, Daryl Gurney broke his major title duck in the PDC in the summer….and boy, what a way for the Irishman to do it.
He delighted his home crowd in Dublin at the World Grand Prix, and showed extraordinary bottle to get over the line in the notoriously double-start format.
Gurney hasn’t quite excelled since, but it’s forgivable for him to take his eye off the ball after such a momentous moment in his career. He will be fully focused for the World Championships, make no mistake.
Ronny Huybrechts’ nickname is ‘Rebel’, but in truth it should probably be the limpet owing to his slow, methodical style. He hasn’t progressed past the last 16 of any singles tournament this year, and it is hard to see him stringing three legs in any given set together against the scoring power of Gurney.