Welcome back to OpenOdds’ Darts Round Up, where this week we will be looking back at the final stages of the PDC’s Premier League and the enduring success of the world’s Number One player, and also looking ahead to next week’s World Cup – where players who more often find themselves playing against one another will team up in the hope of bringing glory to their countries. 32 nations are involved, with two players from each, and among the men involved will be several of the competitors who just completed a Premier League season.
The final night of the Premier League featured the top four players from the league table, playing first the semi-finals and then a best-of-21 final at the O2 Arena in London. Going into the night, there was some cause to be skeptical of the experts’ confidence in defending champion Michael van Gerwen; the Dutchman faced Daryl Gurney, who had beaten him twice in the competition but was seemingly priced with a built-in Odds Boost by most bookies. In the end, though, class will always out when the stakes are at their highest; and as we will see, van Gerwen came through the night relatively unscathed. Will he double up on his personal glory by defending the World Cup trophy for his country?
Form is temporary: A straightforward night for van Gerwen
There is a reason that Michael van Gerwen has won so many major titles, while occasionally losing out early in PDC Tour events. Put simply, when he needs to turn it on, he invariably does, and this was the case last Thursday night when the draw paired him with Daryl Gurney. While the Northern Irishman has beaten the World Number One twice this season, consistent performance when it mattered had allowed MvG to top the Premier League table, while Gurney had just narrowly made the play-offs. As it turned out, when the Dutchman’s progress depended on beating his “bogey” player, the World Champion delivered.
It wasn’t a one-sided match – Gurney ran the table-topper close in a best-of-19 contest – but when the chips were down, the final score was 10-7 to van Gerwen. The rankings leader then watched, and got his breath back, as Rob Cross gained instant revenge for the previous week’s loss to James Wade, picking up a 10-5 win in the other semi. Whether the quick turnaround to contest the final hurt Cross, it’s hard to say. In the final, he found himself 5-1 behind after a tough start before regathering himself and winning the next three legs. The night’s pivotal moment came when, at 5-4, the Englishman had three darts at a double to level. He missed with all three, and van Gerwen picked off a 74 checkout to take a 6-4 lead into the interval.
After the break, the Dutchman again came out on a hot streak, edging 8-4 ahead before Cross got back on the board, but that would be the last leg the underdog would win. After landing a 130 checkout to finish things off, van Gerwen lifted his fifth Premier League title, moving him to one behind Phil Taylor in the Roll of Honour.
What next for the Dutch prodigy?
Fresh from his Premier League success, van Gerwen competed over the weekend in the Dutch Darts Masters, taking out old friend and hero Raymond van Barneveld in the semi-final. However, it would not be a tournament win on home soil for MvG, who lost in the final to England’s Ian White. Now, attention turns to Hamburg in Germany, where two players from each of 32 countries face off for World Cup glory.
The world’s top player is partnered in the Dutch pairing by Jermaine Wattimena. The 31-year-old World Number 23 is untested at this level, and has never been beyond the Third Round of a World Championship, but the Netherlands are still joint-favourites to retain the trophy at 3/1 with BetVictor. A straightforward start for the defending champions sees them take on Spain, but the semi-final is likely to bring them into opposition with England, with the winner likely to move on and win in the final.
National interest outstrips personal for a weekend
Success in the World Cup is, naturally, not about just having the best player – although the fact that the Dutch have won three of the last five, including the two most recent, indicates that it helps. The format of the tournament means it is better if you have two battle-hardened players on whom you can rely, and the untested van Gerwen-Wattimena partnership may not find things as straightforward as MvG did when paired with van Barneveld. England are ranked #1, and find themselves as second-favourites with Betway on odds of 11/4. The English team is made up of Cross and sixth-ranked Michael Smith – where perhaps James Wade would have been a better bet – and might be very well-placed to take out the Dutch in the semi-finals.
Who else could take the honours? Well, with the two favourites in the same half of the draw, one of them will be gone before the final round, which means that there is a chance for a bolter to exploit their easier path through the competition and win across a best-of-five match format in the final. Best positioned for this could be Scotland, with the pairing of Peter Wright and Gary Anderson. The latter player missed the Premier League through injury, but has been back at the oche recently and may well be better for the rest. Wright himself may as well not have been present for the latter stages of that same competition, but his throwing has been much better in other tournaments, and Scotland are an intriguing punt at 7/2 with William Hill.
Bubbling under are Wales – whose 7/1 odds with most bookmakers might be more a reflection on the difficulty of getting Gerwyn Price to get along with another person for three days (in this case, world #16 Jonny Clayton) than anything else. With Northern Ireland further back at 11/1, there’s a chance that Daryl Gurney, paired with 40th-ranked Brendan Dolan, could make life hard for their close neighbours, but it’s hard to see them going all the way.