Our in-form darts tipster Chris Hammer previews the Betfred World Matchplay, which begins in Blackpool this weekend, and has five bets to consider.
- Click for World Matchplay Draw, Schedule & TV Guide
- Player-by-player World Matchplay guide
- Day two match-by-match preview & acca
- Follow @ChrisHammer180 on Twitter
Recommended Bets: World Matchplay
0.5pts e.w. Michael Smith at 25/1 (1/2 1,2)
0.5pt e.w. Daryl Gurney at 25/1 (1/2 1,2)
0.5pt e.w. Ian White at 40/1 (1/2 1,2)
1pt Glen Durrant to win 1st quarter at 11/1
1pt Ian White to win third quarter at 13/2
I wouldn't go as far as saying anyone could be walking away with the Phil Taylor Trophy a week on Sunday, but this certainly feels like one of the most wide open World Matchplay ever.
There's only three players in the field that have ever triumphed at the Winter Gardens but with Michael van Gerwen so drastically out of form by his own remarkable standards, Gary Anderson still looking rather rusty after his comeback from injury and James Wade in such a tough section of the draw, I'm fairly confident in predicting there'll new winner of this second most prestigious event in darts.
But who on earth will that be?
Anyone who has followed darts relatively closely will have noticed so many different players picking up titles in 2019 - 16 to be precise and that number could be even higher when you consider that on 14 occasions has one of the multiple winners beaten a player in the final who hasn't yet triumphed this year.
Two of the best players in the world in Rob Cross and Michael Smith fall into that category and so would Peter Wright had he not blazed his way to three titles in the last week!
I'm personally loving the free for all at the moment and the unpredictability that comes with it, while it's not just the much talked about rising stars of the game making their mark, but also the veterans rolling back the years and those in the middle who have finally found their game clicking together.
So now I'll run through my picks to 'win' each quarter of the draw before picking my outright picks, but if you want to find out more about every hopeful in the field as well as my verdict for each of them, then click here for a separate player-by-player World Matchplay guide.
Prediction: Glen Durrant to win at 11/1
- (1) Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton
- (16) Adrian Lewis v Glen Durrant
- (8) James Wade v Jeffrey de Zwaan
- (9) Mensur Suljovic v Jermaine Wattimena
I've gone into greater detail on Michael van Gerwen's struggles in the aforementioned player-by-player guide but ultimately he's out of sorts at the moment and has failed to average over 100 in his last 11 matches.
Although his overall average of 99 this season is more than anyone else and he's winning a greater percentage of his legs than his rivals at 60% (stats courtesy of Carl Fletcher's excellent World Matchplay stats guide), that is mainly down to his relentless form from earlier in the year when he won eight titles, including the Masters and Premier League, and was having a lot of fun with hitting nine-darters in three different ways.
He didn't seem in a very good place last week at the German Darts Masters when blowing a 5-1 lead to lose 6-5 to Martin Schindler so with all this in mind I have to oppose the favourite even though big hitting punters might have their eyes lit up at his odds-against prices to lift the title for the third time.
So in this tough quarter I'm going for Glen Durrant to star for the first time on the televised stage since switching over to the PDC following his historic third BDO world title.
To say he's taken the circuit by storm is an understatement, winning two Players Championship titles already to soar up the rankings quick enough to book his maiden trip to the Winter Gardens, achieving a lifelong dream in the process.
Duzza has done it in style too, beating MVG in their first ever meeting on the day of his second title, while statistically he's been one of the most formidable players this year. For example his overall tournament average of around 98 is only bettered by the world number one and Rob Cross while in other barometers such as leg % won and darts thrown per winning leg, he's among the best in the business.
The only sticking point - and this may put some people off - is that he hasn't delivered the goods on the stage environment yet, be it the European Tour events or the UK Open.
However I'm not sure it's worth dwelling on too much because he's obviously dealt with crowd pressures in the BDO and also enjoyed some success during his three appearances at the Grand Slam of Darts.
That said, I wouldn't put anyone off Jeffrey de Zwaan a big 22/1 in this market and he might even tempt a few in at 100/1 for the title. He's won his second PDC title already this season - a few weeks after reaching a final - as he looks to maintain the momentum he built from knocking MVG out in the first round here 12 months ago en route to the semi-finals.
Prediction: Michael Smith to win at 4/1
- (5) Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes
- (12) Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp
- (4) Gary Anderson v Danny Noppert
- (13) Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King
This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the toughest quarter to call. But I think whoever comes through it will end up lifting the Phil Taylor Trophy.
Michael Smith is my selection here but not for one second am I underestimating his first-round opponent Jamie Hughes who, like Durrant, has enjoyed a stellar first season as a PDC Tour Card holder and the manner in which he qualified for the World Matchplay showed everyone how he can cope under immense pressure on stage.
Yozza not only needed to reach his first PDC final at the inaugural Czech Open - the last event before the qualifying cut off for Blackpool - but win it, and he did just that, beating the likes of Adrian Lewis, Ian White and Simon Whitlock before seeing off Stephen Bunting in the final.
His stats have been great this season but Smith's experience of the big time gives him the edge, even if he hasn't turned that into anywhere near as many trophies as he should have.
I'm putting a line through his desperately disappointing Premier League season - it started badly thanks largely to his lack of January practice and preparation due to his honeymoon while sloppy finishing at key times also cost him as well as seemingly playing the wrong player at the wrong time. Excuses, excuses but it just felt an uphill battle too early.
Away from that he's reached three finals since being World Championship runner-up, including the recent US Masters which was one by Nathan Aspinall, and I think a tough draw is what he needs to find his rhythm quickly at just the right time.
Aspinall, who I tipped to win the UK Open at 125/1 (sorry I had to mention that), is in the unfamiliar position of having a bit of a target on his head now that he's one of the new stars of the sport but he should see off Mervyn King before a potential blockbuster against Gary Anderson.
But even the Flying Scotsman recently admitted "it might take a while for me to get my consistency back" after a difficult first half of 2019 although his World Cup triumph with Peter Wright does at least show he's on the right track.
However consistency over a long format is exactly what you need to win a tournament like the World Matchplay, as he knows full well. If he's off it for a few legs against Danny Noppert, he could easily get punished.
Prediction: Ian White to win at 13/2
- (2) Rob Cross v Chris Dobey
- (15) Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski
- (7) Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting
- (10) Ian White v Joe Cullen
Rob Cross is 7/4 favourite to come through this quarter as you might expect but while his stats and averages have been outstanding this year in both floor and stage events, he seems to slip up just when a title is within touching distance.
Whereas Voltage has lost three finals, including the Premier League and UK Open, and three semis, the other leading candidates in this quarter have won five between them.
Gerwyn Price won back-to-back Players Championship titles away from his impressive televised showings at the UK Open and Premier League while he further demonstrated his box office appeal with a nine-darter on the European Tour.
Krzysztof Ratajski maintained his 100% record in PDC finals when adding a fourth Players Championship title to his collection in June, when defeating Nathan Aspinall in the process, although the Polish Eagle has yet to show he can produce his best consistently on TV.
Then we come to my selection Ian White, who has almost turned into the king of the European Tour this season with two more titles to add to his maiden success of 2018 as he finally proves to himself that he can indeed mix it with the best on the stage environments.
Diamond's first this year saw him edge Peter Wright in a deciding leg in Germany while the second also went down to the wire against Michael van Gerwen at the Dutch Darts Masters having lost his three previous final appearances in 2019 to the world number one - including twice on the European Tour.
White has been around a long time now and in previous years I wouldn't consider backing him because he seemed to be a 'floor man' who is yet to go beyond a quarter-final of a televised major.
I remember walking past the 48-year-old by the coffee and the biscuits table in the media zone of the Ally Pally last December following his agonising defeat to Devon Peterson, where he'd blown a two-set lead, and overheard him saying how nervous he'd got.
But what's happened since has got to inject new belief into him and with these recent successes still fresh enough in the memory, he can put together his best ever run on TV.
Prediction: Daryl Gurney to win at 10/3
- (6) Peter Wright v Vincent van der Voort
- (11) Simon Whitlock v John Henderson
- (3) Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans
- (14) Jonny Clayton v Keegan Brown
It's probably fair to say if you offered any one of these eight players the chance to swap into another quarter - without knowing who exactly they'd face - they'd probably stick.
Peter Wright is now the clear favourite to reach the semi-finals due to this ridiculous hot streak of form he's found over the past week which has helped him win three titles in a row - starting with the German Darts Masters and followed by back-to-back Players Championship successes in Barnsley.
It all means he's won 18 matches on the trot, averaging over 100 in nine of them (including six in a row on Wednesday) and can boast an overall mark of 101.26 during this run that takes his career tally of PDC titles to 25.
I'm not surprised Snakebite is back in the winners' enclosure having tipped him to do so at 10/1 ahead of the German Darts Masters, where he beat by 80/1 each-way fancy Gabriel Clemens in the final, but as I wrote in my player-by-player guide, there have been a few false dawns in Wright's quest to get back to his formidable 2017 levels and I wonder if this purple patch is another. It can only do him good, however.
He did reflect on how his change of darts has made things easier but I'm not ashamed to admit I've completely lost track of his tungsten tinkering. Someone needs to set up a Peter Wright darts tracker website really, that would be helpful.
Last time we saw Daryl Gurney on TV he suffered a horrible, horrible 8-0 trouncing at the hands of James Wade in the German Darts Masters when he only managed one dart at a double and averaged 74. I'm not really selling him to you am I?
But a performance that bad can be written off as just a random anomaly and shouldn't distract from what has been a superb season in which he's won a maiden European Tour title and reached the Premier League play-offs for the first time.
He reached those play-offs despite a poor start to the season as we were again reminded of those same battling qualities that helped him win a second major televised title against Michael van Gerwen at the Players Championship Finals late last year.
Given his success on some of the biggest stages, it's baffling really why SuperChin is such a negative thinker, who frequently admits he doesn't believe he's as good as he is.
Whether it's just a case of reverse phycology or not, I reckon he can make the most of this relatively kind-ish draw and emulate his run to the last four of 2017, where hopefully he'll meet White for a place in the final.