Our Chris Hammer, who tipped three of the UK Open semi-finalists last year including 125/1 winner Nathan Aspinall, is hoping to hit the bullseye once again this week.
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Recommended Bets: UK Open Darts
- 1pt e.w Michael Smith at 20/1 (1/4, 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 1pt e.w. Glen Durrant at 28/1 (1/4 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 0.5pt e.w. Krzysztof Ratajski at 40/1 (1/4 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 0.5pt e.w. Luke Humphries at 80/1 (1/4 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 0.5pts e.w. Mervyn King at 200/1 (1/4 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 0.5pts e.w. Devon Petersen at 250/1 (1/4 1, 2, 3, 4)
- Click here for all of Sky Bet's UK Open odds
How to solve the puzzle of picking a UK Open champion?
They call this great event the FA Cup of Darts for obvious reasons including the random round-by-round draws, the presence of 'non-league' amateurs among the bumper 160-player field and the 'giant-killing' feats that have blown previous editions wide open.
But from a betting point of view it also feels like the Grand National of Darts. You can put in as much research as humanly possible but you might be better served pulling five names out of a tombola and hoping for the best!
Indeed, given the overall standard of those on the PDC circuit rising through the roof, I could easily make sound and rational cases for at least 50% of the field - even those upwards of 200/1 - but that further proves the reality that nobody is immune from an early exit.
Just ask Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson, who were the top two in the betting last year only to be sent packing by Mervyn King and Steve Beaton respectively on opening night.
Such upsets and high-profile casualties are seemingly more common in this major than any other and, by darts standards, 10 different winners in a 17-year history is quite a variety.
Phil Taylor 'only' lifted the trophy five times, MVG just twice along with Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade while Roland Scholten, Robert Thornton, Adrian Lewis, Peter Wright, Anderson and Nathan Aspinall are the other winners.
Surprise finalists in years gone by include Shayne Burgess, Mark Walsh, Barrie Bates, Gary Mawson, Colin Osbourne, Corey Cadby and even Gerwyn Price in 2017 when he was still climbing the ranks.
And in the ‘Beast from the East’ year of 2018 - which was even more of a leveller than usual - David Pallett and Robert Owen joined Anderson and Cadby in the semi-finals, with John Part memorably rolling back the years to reach quarters.
This all said, the UK Open still boasts an illustrious roll of honour and while Aspinall was one of the biggest shocks in major darts history, his continual rise up the rankings in the short time since then proves his success was far from a fluke.
The Stockport man's battling spirit is one of the fundamental attributes you need to become champion of this event and not only did he need that in abundance to avoid a couple of early scares against Christian Kist (10-9) and Steve Lennon (10-8) on the outside boards, he also had the character to overcome Price and Cross under the lights of the Main Stage on the final night - with a 170 checkout to complete the job.
The other essential qualities - apart from a sprinkling of FA Cup of Darts magic - are consistency and mental stamina to cope with a minimum of six matches, an excellent 'floor' game in case you get drawn to play in the multi-board room and, of course, a stage presence. The luck of the draw can only get you so far.
Last year I couldn't have asked for more having tipped Aspinall at 125/1 in my pre-tournament preview along with Cross (18/1) and Price (20/1) - although my other two didn't fare as well!
Given the sheer number of entrants and the other factors already discussed, you do need the 'safety' in numbers of four or five outright selections, especially if it's the bigger priced outsiders catching your eyes.
The quintet at the head of the betting - van Gerwen, Wright, Price, Aspinall and Anderson - are obviously proven major winners who tick every box to go far this weekend but I've left out of my staking plan for value reasons.
As I mentioned in our UK Open Podcast with Paul Nicholson, the prices available on those players aren't too dissimilar to what they would be in a conventional major where they'd be protected from facing each other until at least the quarter-finals.
You'll notice that none of my selections have ever won a PDC major but I do believe we're now firmly stages in an era where titles will be shared out a lot more than in previous years where so many trophies are lifted by the usual suspects.
There were 20 different winners in 2018, 22 in 2019 and six already this season from just eight events. If there's any players below who you think don't have the bottle to do it on the big stage, bare in mind they could easily end up in the latter stages with those in the same boat of chasing their maiden crown.
Before I explain each selection, it's worth baring in mind that some bookies are offering each-way terms of four places at 1/4 odds, which means a semi-final run will be good enough for a payout. That's my personal preference but other bookies offer the conventional terms of 1/2 odds for top two.
Michael Smith (20/1)
Twelve months ago Michael Smith headed to Minehead just days after emergency surgery to remove an abscess on his leg but courageously defied the pain to hobble the way through a gruelling campaign that ended in the semi-finals.
So that's a firm tick in the 'battling qualities' box.
Bully Boy is widely regarded as one of the most naturally gifted players in the world today and there's no doubting he has the talents and years of experience at the top table to finally win his first televised major title.
Remarkably he hasn't actually won a tournament of any kind on since the summer of 2018 in Shanghai but he can't have come much closer having finished runner-up on nine occasions since then including the 2018 World Series of Darts Finals, 2019 World Championship, 2019 World Matchplay, the 2020 Masters and this weekend's Belgian Darts Championship on the European Tour, where he played brilliantly.
Just days after firing in a maiden televised nine-dart finish in the Premier League, which must have filled him with extra confidence, he beat both Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright before just coming up short against Gerwyn Price.
There's only so much banging on the door you can do without it falling off its hinges and I think we're at that point with Smith, even if we have said that numerous times in recent years.
Some may say he has battle scars of all those near misses, but surely that won't stop him ever winning a big one?
Glen Durrant (28/1)
Glen Durrant may have only earned his Tour Card two months before his UK Open debut last year, but he'd already climbed the ranks quickly enough thanks to a maiden Players Championship title to go in at the second-round stage in Minehead.
Although Duzza's first major appearance as a member of the PDC circuit started well enough with a 6-1 thumping of Maik Kuivenhoven on the main stage, it was over almost as soon as it began on one of the outer boards, losing 6-2 to Gavin Carlin.
However, a lot has changed in 12 fantastic months and to say the three-time BDO world champion has found his feet in this organisation is a huge understatement, winning two floor tournaments in total and reaching three televised semi-finals as well the last eight at the Alexandra Palace.
Few could possibly begrudge him a Premier League call-up despite not yet rising into the top nine on the Order or Merit and so far he's taken to that like a duck to water.
He has the 'floor' game and big-stage mental strength to deal with the variety of atmospheres of Minehead while unlike last year he goes straight in at the fourth round on Friday night with the rest of the world's top 32.
His consistency of producing mid to upper 90s averages will also serve him well and he might not even need to produce much more than that. Nathan Aspinall didn't once post a three-figure mark during his run 12 months ago and 88.72 was good enough in the final.
Krzysztof Ratajski (40/1)
Last month Krzysztof Ratajski won his seventh PDC title in the space of just two years thanks to an 8-7 victory in a quite brilliant final with Ian White.
Since the start of 2018, only van Gerwen (33), Peter Wright (10), Gary Anderson (9) and Gerwyn Price (9) have won more titles than the dangerous Polish Eagle while he's level with an out of form James Wade. However, if you only include ranking titles - which all seven of Ratajski's are - then his tally is matched by Anderson, with only Price nine and MVG's 24 being higher.
The 43-year-old, who is up to a career-high 18 on the Order of Merit, is continually proving what an immense talent he is, producing the kind of 100+ averages good enough to defeat anyone.
Although Ratajski saved his best for the floor tournaments - which at least means he'll fare well if and when he plays on the outer boards this weekend - he has won on the stage environment of the Gibraltar Darts Trophy on the European Tour last year and now just needs to transfer his ability to the big televised arenas.
Some question whether the 2017 BDO World Masters winner has what it takes to do just that but, as Paul Nicholson rightly pointed in one of his recent Sporting Life columns, it's still the early stages of his PDC career and is therefore unfair to put a question mark against his major credentials.
He was a valiant loser to Nathan Aspinall in a gruelling World Championship clash in December when he showed no sign of stage fright while he's shown plenty of fighting spirit on this very stage before at the 2018 Players Championship Finals, overcoming Gerwyn Price with a stirring comeback.
Also, if you need any more reassuring, darts analyst Carl Fletcher is also going for Ratajski in his Sporting Life stats guide for the event. Great minds think alike and all that.
Luke Humphries (80/1)
Luke Humphries will be relishing the opportunity to shine under the bright lights of a big major again having enjoyed a second successive run to the World Championship quarter-finals.
The Newbury ace, who raised plenty of eyebrows by becoming World Youth champion at the age of 24, may well be a familiar face in the world of darts due to his exploits at the Ally Pally but his only other televised tournaments have come in the confines of the Butlin's Minehead resort. Twice at the UK Open and once at last year's Players Championship Finals.
However, this is his first full season on the Pro Tour following his successful tenure in the Development Tour and while he's yet to go particularly far in any of the six Players Championship events so far this season, he's averaging well with plenty of marks above 100 or the high 90s.
Humphries has already shown in his relatively short career that he's the type of competitor who revels on the stage environment and his inexperience shouldn't count against him.
When Nathan Aspinall headed to Minehead last year, he'd only competed in the UK Open three times previously as well as one appearance in each of the European Championship, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals.
Mervyn King (200/1)
There are few players in the world of darts who have come as close to winning a PDC major as Mervyn King without doing so.
The 53-year-old was runner-up in the World Grand Prix, Premier League, Players Championship Finals and the Masters during his peak years between 2009 and 2014 - not to mention countless of semi-final appearances - but he's certainly not lost the hunger to finally fulfil his dreams.
The King is still operating around the top 20 on the Order of Merit and last reached the quarter-finals of the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and Players Championship Finals so there's no reason to scoff too loudly at this selection - if indeed you are.
He shocked Michael van Gerwen at the 2019 UK Open before bowing out to eventual runner-up Rob Cross in the fifth round and as recently as this weekend averaged 106 in a 6-4 victory over Glen Durrant en route to the last eight of the Belgian Darts Championship.
It would obviously be quite some story if King can go the distance, but Peter Wright lifting the world title at 49 and BDO king Wayne Warren becoming the oldest ever champion of either version at 57 - as tipped on these pages at 28/1 - proves age is no barrier in this wonderful sport, especially in a leveller of a tournament like this.
I'm sure you wouldn't be overcome with great shock if King reached the semi-finals and should he do so, the each-way terms will payout handsomely.
Devon Petersen (250/1)
There's no denying this final selection requires a leap of faith but that's certainly no issue for a man of the Church like Devon Petersen.
Ranked 57th in the world, the inspirational 'African Warrior' will enter the tournament in the third round late on Friday afternoon and should be brimming with confidence after a recent run of form which suggests he could well be on the brink of a big breakthrough.
Personally, I expected this to happen last year having embarked on a stirring Tour Card-saving run to the fourth round of the World Championship, where he was eventually edged out by Nathan Aspinall, and pledged he would make the most of it.
He showed unbelievably stage presence that fortnight - from a performance perspective as well as his usual high class dancing moves - but sadly his mediocre results on the Pro Tour meant the only TV events he featured in were the UK Open and the Players Championship Finals, which didn't go too well either.
Although he once again relied on the PDC's African Qualifier to seal a return to the Ally Pally last December, Luke Humphries defeated him at the first hurdle and then he made a disappointing start to the 2020 campaign.
However, behind the scenes to all this, Petersen had been working hard with one of finest coaches in the game in Wayne Mardle to improve his technique and the resulting changes made to his shoulder and back lift obviously needed time to bare fruit.
Then, at the most recent Players Championship weekend, everything clicked into place in quite some style.
The Bradford-based 33-year-old posted 100+ averages when defeating both John Henderson and Glen Durrent on the Saturday before bowing out narrowly to Krzysztof Ratajski in a high-quality affair, and 24 hours later reached his first semi-final thanks to a string of stunning displays.
A 6-0 thrashing of Stephen Bunting was followed by a 111.76 average against Niels Zonneveld while a mark of 105.17 helped him destroy Dimitri van den Bergh 6-2 before he pipped Rob Cross 6-5 in a quarter-final tie in which he managed another of 99.
In the end it took an average of 105 from eventual winner Peter Wright to beat him 7-5 but he came away from Wigan with real hope for the future.
Sure, doing this in the deathly surroundings of the Robin Park Tennis Centre is one thing, doing it in a televised major is another.
But we all know Petersen has unbelievable character to deal with any atmosphere and if he can get on a run with the help of his technique changes then his self belief and crowd support could well create an unforgettable story.
* Leading darting statistician Carl Fletcher has also picked out Petersen in his Sporting Life stats guide for the event.
Posted at 1730 GMT on 04/03/20
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