The stars of PDC Darts will descend on Minehead as it plays host the Players Championship Finals which represents the culmination of the PDC Pro Tour season as the Top 32 ranked players from the Pro Tour. It also provides a final opportunity for these players to fine-tune their games in a competitive environment before the World Championship due to start on December 14th.
The draw for this tournament are based exclusively on the Pro Tour rankings which are based on earnings for PDC floor tournaments only and there are no seeds and non-seeds which means No 1 in the Tour rankings plays No 32 in the Tour rankings in Round 1, 2 plays 31, 15 plays 16 and I am sure you get the picture.
Last year’s tournament was won by Kevin Painter who claimed his first major success, coming 7 years after his narrow World Championship Final defeat to Phil Taylor. Having failed to kick on from that success, Painter enters the tournament ranked 30 and as a result faces 3rd ranked Michael Van Gerwen, arguably the best player in the world on current form.
The nature of the draw has thrown up a number of interesting subplots, which we’ll explore now with a preview of the pick of the first round matches and finally an overall preview of the tournament
Raymond Van Barneveld Vs Steve Beaton
Barney secured his first televised major win since 2007 just two weeks ago and it could very well represent a renaissance in his career which has stuttered over the past two years since he suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Gary Anderson in the 2011 World Championships. He made no qualms about the fact he was focused on the World Championship campaign so this tournament may fall in the middle of his preparation, any chinks in his armour would be exposed by Beaton who remains a fans favourite and capable of producing big averages particularly over shorter format matches.
Terry Jenkins Vs Mervyn King
These two met in the first round of World Grand Prix in October and it was an extremely tight encounter which King won en route to the final. A repeat of that match looks likely as both players are tough competitors and closely matched. King has had a great autumn which looked like it would continue in Wolverhampton until he chucked in a poor performance against Kevin Painter to go out in the second round. Jenkins has been playing well all year but has run into form players on a regular basis, however he might just edge this one as King showed strong signs of being over the top against Painter in Wolverhampton, either way the victor of this match will fancy their chances of progressing deep in this tournament.
Wes Newton Vs Gary Anderson
Anderson and Newton have had contrasting years, Anderson has failed to follow-up his successes in 2011 and has not gone beyond the last 16 of any of the televised majors since his quarter-final defeat in World Championships. By contrast Newton has reached a final, semi final and quarter-final during the past 12 months, he is knocking on the door of his first major title but his ability to close out matches against the top players and his concentration during matches is a constant cause for concern. I would expect this match to go the distance as both players are top drawer on their day and their frailties, Newton’s ability to close out against a top player and Anderson’s doubling out, could make it a tense encounter.
Michael Van Gerwen Vs Kevin Painter
Van Gerwen is the biggest story in darts at the moment, his performances over the past 11 months on the floor events and in the last 4 televised majors have cast him in the role as heir apparent to Phil Taylor’s crown as darts top man. He beat Taylor in the past weekend’s floor event to further his claims and victory this weekend would surely make him favourite for the World Championships. He won’t have a cakewalk on his hands against Painter who will want to put on a respectable defence of his title, even if that stretches as far as an honourable defeat to Van Gerwen which, if Van Gerwen shows the form he has been showing, it will be.
The Pro Tour rankings have conspired to create a lopsided draw with the bottom half included Phil Taylor, Michael Van Gerwen, Adrian Lewis, Simon Whitlock, Gary Anderson, Wes Newton and Andy Hamilton who are all in the PDC Top 10, the easy assumption to make from this would be that the winner will come for this half of the drawer, an assumption which I feel would be simplistic. Clearly there is an abundance of top class players in the bottom half of the draw, however this could work against those players as there will be few easy matches on offer for them as they progress in the tournament.
As much as Taylor will have a point to prove after early exits in the last 2 televised majors, he will have more than just an eye on the World Championships and the plan all year for Taylor was to use the last few tournaments of the year to build to the World’s and I think it is unlikely he is going to drain himself this weekend and impact his practice regime in the days that follow as a result, what I would point out at this time is Taylor is strongly rumoured to be planning to retire if were to win his 16th World Championship in a few weeks, clearly the Players Championship is not a major priority for The Power.
Andy Hamilton could prove to be one to keep your eye on in the bottom half, unlike a number of his rivals in this half, he will be fully focused on this weekend and will want to win this title to cap a superb 18 month’s which has resurrected his career. He is a gritty competitor and very difficult to beat, especially in short format matches, given his ability to score steady tons with little difficulty from the off. He is often overlooked in favour of the flashier and heavier scoring players but he is deceptively heavy scorer and his doubling often rock solid.
The top half of the draw has a more open and mixed look to it and I would not be surprised if the winner of the Jenkins-King match went on to win their quarter of the draw, as Barney and Wade will be looking towards the World’s and may not be at full tilt this weekend, as I favour Jenkins to come out on top in that match, he would be my shout as the most likeliest finalist from the top half of the draw, he has shown good form all year-long and has been unlucky to bump into form players at tournaments, but this weekend I feel he can become the form player that others bump into.
Aside from Jenkins, the top quarter of the draw looks the most open to a shock name with its top seed Chisnall being prone to succumbing to pressure on the doubles, Kim Huybrechts looks the obvious alternative, he reached the last 16 of the UK Open and was a semi finalist in the European Championships, his ascent in the game has not been as rapid as some had predicted following his World Championships performance, however he could cement his position as a budding top 16 player by making his 2nd major semi final of the year.