Brian Barry previews all the action ahead of the opening of the PDC World Darts Championship at the Ally Pally.
For most, Christmas begins with the first viewing of the Guinness ad, or the Coca-Cola truck, or your first mince pie.
For many of us however, it is when darts action from the Ally Pally returns to our screens. With over two weeks of darting delight, we sit back, and enjoy what promises to be one of the best World Championships yet.
Be it Raymond Van Barneveld’s 2007 victory over Phil Taylor in a slugfest at the Circus Tavern, Wayne Mardle’s magic in 2008, or those 17 darts thrown by Michael Van Gerwen two years ago. It is where memories are made and legends are born.
In the top half of the draw, the standout favourite is defending champion and first seed, Michael van Gerwen. Having secured the Grand Prix title in October, and a fourth televised nine-darter against Raymond Van Barneveld later that month, he is in top form, and primed to strengthen his grip at the top of world darts by defending his title in the new year.
The draw has been kind to MVG, who is pitted against Joe Cullen in the first round. Assuming he wins, he is likely to play Stuart Kellet next, before Terry Jenkins or Justin Pipe to reach the quarter-final.
With Phil Taylor, Van Barneveld, Simon Whitlock, James Wade, and Adrian Lewis all on the other side of the draw, the only players on MVG’s half rated as true contenders are Dave Chisnall, Peter Wright, and Gary Anderson. Van Gerwen is heavily fancied to reach the decider.
If somebody is to upset ‘Mighty Mike’ before then, it could well be Anderson. The ‘Flying Scotsman’ is off the back of a victory in the Players’ Championship Finals, banishing a hoodoo by beating Taylor for the first time since 2007 en route.
His average exceeded 100 in every game of the tournament. These are numbers not to be taken lightly in the run-up to the World Championship.
Considering he was outside the top ten of the world in the Autumn, he has gathered real momentum approaching Christmas, and it comes as little surprise that bookmakers have installed him as third favourite. As ever with Anderson, if he can hit his doubles, there are few that can live with him.
The PDC World Championship cannot be discussed without mention of a certain Phil Taylor. The ‘Power’ is no longer the only show in town, but remains the bookies’ favourite to capture the Sid Waddell trophy. He did not enjoy dominance in 2014 to the tune of his own high standards, but won the Grand Slam with a final win over Chisnall.
The 54 year-old has admitted that he has had to adjust his preparation this month in light of his age, and is spending much more time resting. The draw has not been as kind to the 16 time World Champion, with a potential route to the final looking like Jyhran Artut, Mark Webster, Kim Huybrechts, Simon Whitlock, and Lewis/Wade/Van Barneveld. It is a big ask for Taylor to capture a 17th title.
Provided there is not an early upset, the second round will provide us with one of the most interesting ties of the tournament, as James Wade and Stephen Bunting cross paths. Fifth and sixth favourites respectively, this could be a classic. BDO World Champion Bunting has quietly been going about his business since crossing over to the PDC in January, and having recorded victories over both MVG and Taylor, he will not fear anybody.
But the ‘Bullet’ will have to be on top form early on, as James Wade sets his sights on the entire competition. It is not an ideal draw for either player, and an early big-name casualty is inevitable.
Elsewhere, two-time champ Adrian Lewis cannot be overlooked. ‘Jackpot’ is not given a chance by most, but that is when he is most dangerous. Coming in under the radar is perfect for the 2011 and 2012 winner, who reached last year’s semi-final without dropping a single set, before being whitewashed by Van Gerwen.
However, he did not get the luck of the draw, and second and third round meetings with former winners John Part and Raymond Van Barneveld beckon. Premier League champion ‘Barney’ is another who will be quietly confident of going all the way, and the five-time World Champion will not be lacking in confidence.
Overall, it promises to be one of the best yet, with a dog-fight in store in the bottom half of the draw. Logic dictates a final showdown between MVG and Taylor. But as we know, the Ally Pally oche at Christmastime does not adhere to logic. Sit back and enjoy.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena
Read More About: adrian lewis, alexandra palace, Darts, darts news, dave chisnall, gary anderson, james wade, john part, kim huybrechts, mark webster, michael van gerwen, mvg, pdc world championship, peter wright, phil taylor, raymond van barneveld, sid waddell trophy, stephen bunting