The biggest tournament in the PDC calendar begins this Friday as the organisations biggest stars descend on Alexandra Palace to battle it out to become World Champion. The 15 days over action that lay ahead promise to be dramatic and high quality, Adrian Lewis will be defending the crown he won for a second successive year back in January and will seek to make it three in a row. Standing in his way are a number of players who are serious contenders for glory this year.
The foremost of those contenders is Phil Taylor, who goes into the tournament on the back of his impressive Players Championship Finals victory. Its a mark of the standards that he is judged by, that in a year when he has won 3 major TV titles it is considered a disappointing one. His place at the top of the game has been in question since Michael Van Gerwen’s emphatic defeat of him in last month’s Grand Slam Of Darts, but his Players Championship victory showed that he is still the top dog. Could he be lifting his 16th World Championship on New Years Day? Well he is a worthy favourite and will take all the beating on paper but he will have to be at his best to go all the way.
Here’s my guide to the field and who are the players to look out for broken down by draw quarter.
Quarter 1 – Phil Taylor will be considered the dominant factor in this quarter but he has some serious challengers. Andy Hamilton has enjoyed a standout year without gaining a TV title whereas Robert Thornton has bounced back to form winning the UK Open. Paul Nicholson will be keen to face Taylor in a potential 3rd Round match and that could provide a fiery contest. However I think Taylor’s biggest challenge will come in the form of Terry Jenkins, who reached the last 4 of the World Matchplay. Despite suffering early exits in his last 3 TV tournaments he has been playing well and I fancy him to make a run in this tournament and come out on top from this quarter.
Quarter 2 – Arguably the toughest quarter to call as it includes four serious contenders in the form of Barneveld, Chisnall, Whitlock and Anderson. The quarter looks between the four of them with a due respect to the others in this quarter. That said Barneveld could be at risk of a 1st Round shock as he faces a tricky match against Michael Smith who is improving with every TV appearance and rates a big threat to Barney. Given the double issues that impact Anderson and Chisnall and often nullify their big scoring, the most likely player to progress from this quarter is Whitlock. Who, having tucked away his first PDC major in September, will be confident of going all the way this year.
Quarter 3 – Another top quality quarter with defending champion Adrian Lewis and new sensation Michael Van Gerwen being the star attractions. The form of Lewis is major concern heading into the tournament with just two last 8 finishes in TV tournaments this year. Added to that the recent birth of his second child and it is hard to be confident about his prospects for a third title. Van Gerwen has to prove he can perform over the longer distance matches and his form may have peaked a few weeks back in Wolves and this might prove a tournament too many for him. An outsider to note in this quarter is Ronnie Baxter who will use every bit of his experience to his advantage on this stage and his performances in Blackpool showed he is still capable of cutting it with the best.
Quarter 4 – The final quarter of the draw contains two players with serious aspirations for the title, James Wade and Wes Newton. Wes has developed into a very solid and capable performer in TV tournaments, but there are still question marks about his ability to beat the top players on the big stage. He needs to dispel those questions in order to win this quarter. Wade has suffered a disappointing few months since his Runner Up performance at Blackpool and his personal issues have been under the spotlight following his return to The Priory in October. Whilst Huybrechts, Pipe and King Or Winstanley rate as dangers, I feel Wade will be able to reach a second successive Semi Final.
The tournament has the potential to be one of the best yet and with so many players going there with a real chance of winning it is hard to call a winner. However, James Wade can put the difficulties of the last few months behind him to fulfil the ambition he set out with at the start of the season and become World Champion for the first time. The vibes from his camp have been positive in the last week and he is in a quarter that will suit him with few slow players, so often his bogeyman. Joining him in the final I believe will be Terry Jenkins to make an unlikely matchup. Jenks has been playing well all season long and has had little luck in recent tournaments, I think that will change and he can reach his first World Championship final.