Prem is Taylor-made for Phil

  • By: Reece Killworth
  • Last Updated: February 6 2013, 18:36 GMT

Reece Killworth has three pre-tournament bets ahead of the McCoy's Premier League Darts, with Phil Taylor his headline selection.

Phil Taylor: Relentlessly consistent in the Premier League

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This shouldn't be the first time you've heard a McCoy's Premier League Darts campaign trumpeted as the most competitive in the tournament's history.

We've been here several times before.

By definition the inaugural running of the event was the most competitive we'd ever had and when you consider we've since added - at various stages - the likes of James Wade, Raymond van Barneveld, Gary Anderson, Simon Whitlock and (most recently) Michael van Gerwen, the improvement is obvious.

But a quick look at the coupon for this year's opening round of matches on Thursday shows you just how competitive the layers see the 2013 PLD being.

Not one player is rated an odds-on shot as the tournament kicks off in Belfast. Not Phil Taylor, just weeks after winning his 16th world title at Alexandra Palace. Not Adrian Lewis, just days after linking up with Taylor to win the World Cup. Not Simon Whitlock, 12 months on from his final appearance.

Were Taylor playing anyone other than van Gerwen, I think it's safe to say he would be, but that's immaterial as he is - and it's 6/5 Taylor, 7/4 MVG.

Before going any further, it's worth bearing in mind the format change that has come with the introduction of an extra couple of players this season.

Over the opening nine weeks, each player will play the other nine over a best of 12 legs. At that stage, the bottom two players in the table will be relegated.

The eight remaining players will then face each other again with the top four progressing to the usual season-ending play-off night at The O2 on May 16.

So where can we eke out the profits?

Well I'm certainly not expecting any prizes for originality here but at the same time I'm making no apologies for putting up Taylor to win the league as a confident headline selection.

As I mentioned above, it's just four weeks since he won that 16th world title and nothing we've seen in the interim suggests he's on the wane.

His performances at the World Cup were right out of the top drawer and he dragged Lewis - at times almost kicking and screaming - over the line.

Much the more impressive of the two Englishmen in the early rounds, Taylor then averaged over 107 in his singles match against an impressive Japan side in the quarter-finals before taking out 84 and 160 finishes in the doubles.

A round later, he swept aside Wales' Mark Webster 4-1 before beating both the Huybrechts brothers for the cost of just one leg in the final.

The great thing about Taylor throughout his career has been his relentless consistency - and not just over a matter of days. I'm talking months and years.

While the likes of Colin Lloyd, van Barneveld, Wade and Lewis have won titles down the years, they have faded in and out of form far too regularly.

Meanwhile the Taylor juggernaut has just rumbled on and on and on.

His Premier League record serves as the ultimate sign of that.

Since 2005, Taylor has played 122 Premier League matches, winning no fewer than 99 - a success rate of over 80% - drawing 15 and losing just eight.

He has won the event six times in eight runnings - being a beaten semi-finalist twice - but even more impressively has topped the table in seven of them.

Maintaining consistency over a lengthy period of time (not just the few days it can take to win other tournaments) is what makes this Taylor's event.

Yes, as I said in my introduction, this is the most competitive Premier League we've ever had, but there's only van Gerwen can hold a candle to Taylor if he's playing at his best - which if he's not at the moment, he's not far short of.

Who else can you see picking up points with the regularity Taylor does?

Van Gerwen is the obvious contender but in my view he is much more likely to throw in a couple of ropey performances than Taylor across the piece, particularly once he books his expected place in the play-offs.

And when the duo meet, I'd still see Taylor as the likeliest winner - as, it's worth remembering, the layers do in Belfast this week.

That isn't to say van Gerwen can't win the Premier League - it's patently obvious he can; indeed that's why I'm going for the 'safer' 13/8 shot on Taylor topping the league table than the 7/4 on him winning the whole event.

The simple truth is there's no finer accumulator of Premier League points in the business than Taylor and at 13/8 (5/4 elsewhere) he's too big for me.

While backing Taylor, I'm also keen to oppose his World Cup team-mate.

For a man who has won two of the last three world titles, it's bizarre - but also telling - that Lewis hasn't reached another major televised final.

On his day, 'Jackpot' is a phenomenally gifted and effortlessly natural thrower who makes the game look ridiculously easy. But those days only seem to be appearing sporadically in the last few months.

The 105 he averaged against Ronny Huybrechts at the World Cup stood out like a sore thumb when put against the rest of his performances in Hamburg.

And while he reached the quarter-finals of the World Championship - and was only ousted by van Gerwen in a brilliant match - his performances at Ally Pally were some distance short of those he'd produced on his previous two visits.

Of the four players to exit at the quarter-final stage Lewis lost most legs and of the 16 to depart at the third-round stage or later, his 91.74 average was the third-worst (only Wade and Mark Walsh produced lower averages).

That capped a pretty forgettable 12 months between world championships with a plethora of exits in the first couple of rounds of the major tournaments.

His Premier League record really isn't all that either.

Though he has twice finished fourth - and therefore reached the play-offs - last year he finished sixth to add to two previous seventh-placed finishes.

After letting a great chance to beat Taylor first up last year slip, he had to wait until the seventh game of the campaign to notch his first victory.

He's got a pretty tough start this time around too with Whitlock, Taylor, Wade and van Gerwen among his opening five matches.

And he does seem to have got the Premier League crowds on his back, which is never a good thing and particularly not when you're not in form.

There are at least a couple of players in this tournament with less talent than Lewis, but I'd fancy them more to grind out the draws to keep momentum.

Where Lewis is concerned, I'd much rather back him to be relegated (ie finish in the bottom two) than he makes the semis and as such it's worth a little play on a season of struggle.

Another who I fear the worst for is debutant Robert Thornton.

The Scot showed his class in breaking his PDC major duck at the UK Open last year, which secured him a wildcard pick for this event.

But his form lately has been patchy at best; indeed even in the next major - the Matchplay - he was whitewashed by Lewis in the opening round.

Thornton is one whose body language is very easy to read and it was telling there was plenty of head-shaking and chuntering during the World Cup, where the Scots - Thornton and Anderson - were the latest giants killed by Spain.

He's co-favourite with Andy Hamilton to finish bottom of the league but I think that's disrespectful to 'The Hammer'.

In his debut Premier League season last year, Hamilton finished third and has the advantage of having that experience under his belt.

No matter how much Thornton has done in the game, the relentless grind of the Premier League is something new and two debutants - Jelle Klaasen (2009) and Mark Webster (2011) - have finished bottom in the last four years.

Kevin Painter too was only kept off the bottom by Anderson last year, and the Scot had plenty of problems to deal with during the tournament.

There's some big price differences in some of those considers outsiders in this market - Whitlock ranges from 7/1 to 25s while even MVG is as short as 20s (66/1 elsewhere) - but for me, Thornton should be a stand-out favourite.

So Thornton to finish bottom is my final outright bet.

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