Our darts expert Chris Hammer looks ahead to this weekend's Players Championship Finals, where Michael van Gerwen bids to win a fourth successive TV title.
The last television major before next month's eagerly-anticipated World Championship takes place this weekend as 64 players battle it out over three action-packed days on two stages at the Butlin's Minehead Resort, live on ITV 4.
If you didn't already know, you won't be at all surprised to learn Michael van Gerwen is the defending champion and he heads down to Somerset in red-hot form having won the Grand Slam of Darts on Sunday night.
Not only that, he's won 22 competitive matches in a row since his shock defeat to John Henderson at the World Grand Prix in October and that run has seen him win two other TV titles at the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals while he also lifted another European Tour trophy before that and his only 'blip' was pulling out injured of the German Darts Masters.
Can anyone stop MVG?
Sky Bet have Price Boosted MVG to an eye-catching even-money to win the Players Championship Finals for what would be a third year in a row - and that will no doubt attract plenty of interest - especially because he's in the opposite half of the draw to Gary Anderson and top seed Rob Cross. (click here for draw, format & schedule).
Given the seedings are based on prize money picked up only via the 22 Players Championship events in 2017, of which Cross won four during his spectacular debut season on the PDC circuit, MVG is ranked down in sixth as he only competed in nine of them.
If he avoids shocks to either Paul Nicholson or Steve West/Ryan Seale in the opening two rounds when it's the potentially dangerous best-of-11 legs format, then he should be away and clear in his half as games then increase to first to 10 and then 11 for the semi-finals.
That said, third seed Peter Wright is the most likely quarter-final opponent and while that would obviously be tougher, Snakebite has tricky tests against the likes of Cristo Reyes, Michael Smith and Simon Whitlock to get there. And even if they do meet, MVG will still be heavy favourite, especially having beaten him in Sunday's Grand Slam of Darts final.
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Anderson, who will probably still be fuming after losing eight of the last nine legs in his 16-15 semi-final defeat to Wright on Sunday, is favourite to come through the top half of the draw, but I'm not sure I can trust him enough in the short format and he's no stranger to the odd upset in majors down the years. Last year in Minehead he lost to Ron Meulenkamp in the second round.
Anyone who followed by daily Grand Slam of Darts columns will know how I firmly expect Rob Cross to win a TV title very soon given his consistent 100+ averages, barrage of 180s, very sharp finishing and ability to hit the very high ton+ checkouts on a regular basis.
He really has got the game and the ability to succeed right now - not just in the future. The only thing he's lacking at the moment is a wealth of experience on the biggest stage but to be honest he didn't look at all fazed by the pressures that go with it in Wolverhampton last week.
The only person who's beating him at the moment is MVG, who has knocked him out of the last four tournaments and two of those were finals - the European Darts Trophy and the European Championship.
Such is his ability, he brings out the best in a very aware van Gerwen but apart from just a couple of occasions, six of his eight defeats from their nine previous encounters have been pretty close and played to a very high standard.
He missed two match darts to defeat the Dutchman in the group stages of the Grand Slam of Darts and was later edged out by him 16-13 in a gripping quarter-final - but that says much more about how the gulf in class isn't very much, rather than any kind of mental block.
Despite being top seed, he's still got a tough quarter, with potential opponents including Adrian Lewis, Joe Cullen, James Wade and John Henderson, while I reckon he'll probably be up against Mensur Suljovic or Anderson in the last four.
He's a Price Boosted 12/1 with Sky Bet to win the title and I'm very keen to take that each-way.
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Big priced outsiders to consider
Outside the big four of MVG (evens), Anderson (13/2), Wright (10/1) and Cross (12/1), everybody is 20/1 and upwards, which means there could be plenty of each-way value out there if there are some shocks to those aforementioned names.
Daryl Gurney (25/1) is still licking his wounds after a humiliating 16-4 grudge match thrashing to Phil Taylor last week and has a point to prove while Champions League of Darts winner Mensur Suljovic (25/1) gave another good account of himself en route to a quarter-final defeat to Anderson.
Although Raymond van Barneveld (40/1) still has the class and desire, he's not producing it on a consistent enough basis to win a major again while Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall are not the forces they once were at this current moment in time.
Joe Cullen and Steve Lennon are two players I've talked up in recent weeks and months - with the latter qualifying for the Grand Slam of Darts knockout stages at an advised 5/1 last week.
They are both in the same half of the draw as my main tournament tip Cross but I don't mind siding with them in a small saver capacity given how this tournament can suit outsiders springing a few surprises.
Last year the likes of Darren Webster, Christian Kist, Kim Huybrechts and Robbie Green reached the quarter-finals and the first of those names went on to lead MVG 6-0 in a semi-final before losing 11-8.
Cullen has won two Players Championship events this year while he's reached two semi-finals on the European Tour and plenty of quarter-finals, but I have expected more from him on the bigger occasions.
He's on the main stage in a very winnable opener against Jamie Caven but he'll be on the lower key second stage for his next two matches against potentially James Wade and Raymond van Barneveld. This could suit him more than his opponents and after that, if he's successful, he'll hopefully have a quarter-final against Cross and that would put us in a strong position.
In Wolverhampton last week, Lennon showed the reasons why he could well be a big talent of the future and I reckon the experience of getting through to the knockout stages, even though he was walloped 10-3 by MVG, will give him the confidence that he belongs at this level.
Having this chance so hot on the heels from the Grand Slam could well be perfect timing for him and although Cross is his second-round opponent, a first to six legs format gives him half a chance.
Recommended bets: Players Championship Finals
- 2pts Rob Cross each-way to win the Players Championship Finals at 12/1
- 0.5pts Steve Lennon to win first quarter at 50/1
- 1pt Joe Cullen to win first quarter at 12/1
Click here for our transparent tipping record.
Posted at 1030 GMT on 24/11/17.